B B. Explanatory memorandum by Mr Jacquat,
The ageing of Europe's population is not a new phenomenon.
Over the past decade, there have been heated debates on the socio-economic
consequences of population ageing and the Parliamentary Assembly has
already considered the matter in Recommendation 1796 (2007)
situation of elderly persons in Europe. In line with this recommendation,
the Committee of Ministers, in its reply of 6 February 2008, was particularly
aware of the importance of helping older people to remain active
with a view to continuing to bring to society the wealth of their
private and professional experience.
2 Building on this shared vision, the rapporteur would now like
to discuss the role played by senior citizens in contributing to
society, as well as workplace culture, older workers’ attitudes
and the concept of active ageing from a human rights perspective.
He would like to thank the representatives of the International
Longevity Institute – France for the fruitful discussion that took
place in Paris on 7 May 2009, which was a source of inspiration
for this report. The Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee
also organised a hearing on 14 September 2009 in Paris, with the
participation of Professor Françoise Forette from the International
3 According to United Nations and European Union estimates and
projections, the trends are clear. The proportion of older people
has been rising steadily, from 8% in 1950, to 11% in 2007 – and
it is expected to reach 22% by 2050. People are living longer, especially
in Europe; on average, eight to nine years longer than in 1960,
and longevity will continue to improve in coming decades. On the
other hand, fertility has declined and, in the predictable future,
is likely to remain below the reproduction rates required to assure
The rapporteur holds the firm belief that population ageing
is a societal achievement and reflects improvements in living conditions,
education, socio-medical prevention policies and public health systems
However, the challenges it presents
to us can also be seen as daunting. As pointed out clearly by many international
and European organisations, unless policies change, lower growth
or absolute falls in the size of the labour force can be expected.
The rapid increase in dependency ratios means that it will become
harder to maintain continued increases in living standards, unless
available labour resources are better mobilised.Note
5 Social protection systems in the Council of Europe member
states are under serious threat and issues like prolonging working
life and the situation of older people are rising up the policy
agendas in many European countries, although at different speeds.
A policy shift is generally recommended to reduce barriers to employment
and work, to promote more effective lifelong learning and thus increase
the resources available to society.
6 One would have thought that a long and healthy old age was
a cause for celebration, but there is a tendency to see the older
population, even older workers, as a ‘burden on society’. The rapporteur
believes that speaking of the ‘burden’ will only be valid if we
fail to change approaches and stereotypes or to restructure society
and its institutions to reflect the new realities of an ageing population
and of longer life expectancy.
7 Policymakers, employers, workers, social actors and civil
society organisations all have the responsibility to make work and
society more attractive for older women and men and to shape a more favourable
environment for families and individuals of all ages.
8 When discussing reforms, one should bear in mind that work
alone is not an effective indicator of older people's economic contribution
to society. Vast numbers, women in particular, already care, unpaid,
for their grandchildren or their own elderly relatives – a factor
that is difficult to include in Gross Domestic Product calculations.
The crucial contribution to economic prosperity and social cohesion
performed in the household, informal care and volunteer sectors
goes entirely unnoticed.
9 One should interpret active ageing as an active process based
on strong and shared ideas of social participation and citizenship.
Policy makers need to shape institutions and adjust policies to
the new demographic scenarios of longer life spans, to incorporate
the needs of older persons in social policy design and to make efforts
to mobilise the human capital that exists to the benefit of women,
men and children.
2 Recent trends of older workers’ participation
in the labour market
10 Today’s older people have lived through more change
than any preceding generations. The first wave of ‘baby boomers’
(born 1946 to 1955) witnessed the boundless promise of technology,
social change and new freedoms. This generation broke more sharply
in values, attitudes, and habits from their parents and grandparents
than any before or since.
Market researchers predict that the ‘baby boom’ generation
will revolutionise what it means to be ‘old’ because their attitudes
are so different to those of their parents. Lingering stereotypes
of the average senior citizen as a frail and passive creature are
already out of date.Note
being labelled as ‘older workers’ can make them feel ill at ease.
However, official data tells us a different story about the
‘baby boom’ generation. In OECD countries in 2007, on average less
than 60% of the population aged 50-64 had a job, compared with 76%
for the age group 24-49, although the situation has improved in
the last ten years. Employment rates for the oldest age group vary
considerably between countries, with more than 60% of this age group
in employment in 2007 in Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Sweden,
but less than 40% employed in many other Council of Europe countries,
in particular Turkey, Poland, Hungary, Belgium, Luxembourg, the
Slovak Republic, Italy and France.Note
The main pathways for exiting early from the labour market
differ from country to country. In some countries, this occurs mainly
through provisions in the pension system or through formal early
retirement schemes. In other countries, it is through disability
and other welfare benefits. According to data from the OECD, in
all countries, early exit from the labour market tends to be a one-way
street, with very few older workers returning to employment – in
general, fewer than 5% of those inactive aged 50-64 are in jobs
one year later. Furthermore, the effective age of retirement is
well below the official age for receiving a full old-age pension
in many European countries.Note
14 The decline in labour-force participation among those over
50 has resulted from various economic, political and social factors.
Older workers have been overrepresented in declining industries
and underrepresented in growth areas, and have been affected by
reduced demand for unskilled workers. In periods of economic expansion
and contraction, when labour demands have grown and receded, the
labour-force participation of older workers has fluctuated accordingly.
15 During recessions, older workers have been targeted in early
retirement schemes, often to tackle youth unemployment in the mistaken
belief that it would free up jobs for the young. The equally heavy
use of disability insurance schemes contributed to reducing the
numbers of older workers. Investment in training and further education
for anyone over the age of 55 was often regarded as a waste of resources.
16 However, there is evidence that the decline in labour-force
participation among older workers has recently reversed, notably
so in some European countries and in particular among older women.
The International Longevity Centre France put forward a “healthy
working life expectancy” indicator at age 50 in Europe, which offers
a model of successful ageing combining two essential dimensions:
the absence of disease and the employment of older people.
On average in Europe, between the ages of 50 and 70, men spend
14.1 years in good health, of which about one half at work, and
women 13.5 years in good health, of which about one third at work.
Therefore, it should in theory be possible to increase healthy working
life expectancy between the ages of 50 and 70, especially for women,
by reallocating years in good health from retirement to work.Note
3 Emergence of policies towards older workers
18 The rapporteur notes that while companies are watching
their workforce age, policymakers are struggling to keep financial
and health support and social security systems in place. Older workers’ employment
patterns and their relationship to population ageing and pension
systems are of increasing concern to policymakers.
19 In recent years, there has been a marked shift towards proactive
labour-market programmes in many countries, and a decline in early
retirement schemes. Governments seem keen to increase the supply
of older workers and to stimulate demand by lowering the costs of
The European Commission and the OECD both recommend an integrated,
comprehensive policy approach to tackle issues arising from the
ageing labour force. The 2001 Stockholm European Council set a new
target of raising the average European Union employment rate for
older men and women (aged 55–64) to 50% by 2010. In 2008, the target
was met in 12 member states, but for 10 others, including the large
member states, France, Italy and Poland, the shortfall was more
than 10 percentage points.Note
21 A range of policies, measures and instruments have been developed
in order to reconstruct the social system, so that retirement and
social security systems encourage people to keep working up to the
age of 65 years and beyond; there is, however, often discrimination
between men and women.
Several European countries have implemented policies targeting
older workers, including:
previous incentives to early retirement;
- encouraging later retirement and flexible retirement and
introducing incentives to remain in the labour force and tax incentives
for companies employing older workers;
- adopting legislation to counter age discrimination;
- levelling the retirement age for men and women;
- engaging in awareness-raising campaigns among employers;
- offering guidance and training programmes targeting older
- providing advice and guidance for employers;
- providing support to labour-market intermediaries.
23 In this regard, the rapporteur would like to speak in favour
of these measures, in particular those that give workers the choice
to continue working in later years. As also stated at the United
Nations Second World Assembly on Ageing in 2002, “older persons
should have the opportunity to work as long as they wish and are able
to, in satisfying and productive work”. France, the rapporteur’s
country, passed a law in 2008 allowing workers to voluntarily work
up to the age of 70, beyond the official retirement age of 65.
24 However, the effective retirement age and the willingness
to work longer depends on a number of objective and subjective factors
such as state of health, individuals’ work-leisure preferences,
family and care responsibilities, companies’ employment policies,
working conditions and work organisation, motivation, work satisfaction
and sense of purpose.
25 The case of Finland is often mentioned for having considered
the relationship between employment, pensions and learning when
formulating policies, and for having succeeded in significantly
raising employment rates of older workers.
Finnish active ageing policies, based on the ‘work ability’
concept, had three main objectives: allowing older people to continue
working; facilitating social acceptance of working longer by the
mobilisation of social partners and firms and by improving well-being
at the workplace; improving social inclusion of older workers and
However, it has to be noted that the successful approaches
experienced in Nordic countries are firmly rooted in consensus across
political parties and the population and benefit from full co-operation
from the social partners. This might limit the transferability of
this model to other countries with very different social and political contexts,
labour markets and social dialogue traditions.Note
28 The reality in many European countries is that early retirement
is still popular among older workers. Although the percentage of
older adults who are working longer is growing in some countries,
most would still prefer to leave the workforce as early as their
financial situation allows. And although there is ample evidence that
a large proportion of the older population is still capable of working
and contributing, most are not doing so.
29 On the other hand, many employers are still reluctant to keep
older workers in their jobs and in particular to hire them. Outdated
ideas about the capacities of older workers are still rooted in
the workplace, but incentives and disincentives embedded in government
tax and benefit programmes also play an important role in employers’
30 The rapporteur stresses that social protection systems need
to be adapted to enable older workers to remain at work longer,
but this should not be done by cutting pension rights or limiting
unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.
31 A serious risk to be considered is the widening of inequalities
and how to account for differences in job arduousness in view of
working conditions. The rapporteur believes that early retirement
may have to be maintained for some categories of blue-collar workers
in physically demanding jobs.
32 The reforms aiming to postpone the retirement age should take
into account that the age at which people entered the labour market,
the total number of years worked and the nature of their work strongly
influence their capacity and willingness to continue to work.
33 What is needed to raise the employment rate of older workers
is a more attractive workplace, the introduction of more work flexibility,
high quality working conditions which help workers to maintain their physical
and mental health, skills development through life-long learning
and the promotion of a positive approach among employers to older
workers. However, there are still many obstacles embedded in national legislation,
as well as lingering prejudices and outdated ideas about the capacities
of older workers.
4 Age discrimination and workplace culture
34 If we are to reap the benefits of longevity, we will
have to break down the barriers that prevent us from making the
most of it. Since the Council of Europe member states have all signed
the European Convention on Human Rights, their legislation should
rightfully reflect its conditions. Human rights include equality,
which also means equal access to the labour market and to services.
35 Although ageism is less acknowledged than racism or sexism,
it is a harmful prejudice that results in widespread mistreatment,
ranging from stereotypic and degrading media images to physical
and financial abuse, unequal treatment in the workforce, and denial
of appropriate medical care and services.
Differences of treatment between individuals or groups on
the grounds of age are often based on generalised assumptions or
casual stereotypes. When individuals are subject to discrimination
as a result of these demeaning stereotypes, their fundamental right
to respect for their human dignity is violated, as they are denied
equality of treatment and respect. Such discrimination also prevents
disadvantaged age groups from participating fully in the labour
37 Even though direct discrimination may be forbidden by law
in many member states, negative attitudes towards older workers
are still deeply rooted in our contemporary work culture. One of
the symptoms is that an unemployed person aged 50 and older has
limited chances of finding a new job. Other symptoms are low job mobility
and low participation in education and training. Moreover, in many
national employment policies, the use of age as a proxy for health
or competence is still widespread.
38 We also have to question the way in which the legitimate ‘right
to retirement’ has become perverted into a ‘duty to retire’, sometimes
forcing people to give up work against their will.
39 In the workplace itself, age discrimination and age-related
harassment demean older people’s dignity and damage their self esteem,
leading in turn to low work morale and reduced productivity. This
runs counter to the positive images of older workers as being reliable,
loyal and hard working workers and is due to the prevalence of negative
stereotypes about them, for example that they are more expensive
and less adaptable, ambitious, creative, alert or capable than younger
40 The creation of a more positive approach among employers to
older workers is a necessary component to facilitating this and
the many positive aspects of employing older workers – such as lower
staff turnover, more flexible workplace attitudes, greater dependability
and their accumulated experience – need to be emphasised and more
41 Evidence shows that worker productivity does not decrease
with age as declining physical capacity is compensated for by qualities
and skills acquired through experience.
42 Besides prejudice and discrimination, other factors have worked
against the reintegration of older workers, notably relatively high
unemployment, high levels of work intensity, and a culture of early
exit from the labour market, resulting in pressure for early retirement.
5 Reasons for early retirement and workers’ attitudes
43 Most people leaving the workforce now are doing so
neither at the statutory age of retirement, nor at the onset of
‘old age’. Many workers leave
their jobs before the standard retirement age because they have
taken early retirement (voluntarily or involuntarily), because they
have been made redundant, or because they suffer from some form
44 The OECD has identified several “pull” or “push” factors that
influence work and retirement decisions of older workers.
Among the most common factors that pull workers into retirement
are financial incentives provided by pension schemes and other formal
or informal early retirement schemes. Push factors include both
firm and individual circumstances that restrict suitable job opportunities.
At the firm level, these include negative perceptions about the
capacities of old workers and difficulties firms face in adjusting
employment as a result of employment protection rules. At the individual
level, these include skills mismatch in the face of technological and
structural changes in labour demand, perceptions on low returns
from further training, work related stress, poor health and inflexibility
to change working hours.Note
46 Tradition also plays a role, as it dictates the “natural”
time to retire, even though people now live longer and are healthier
47 Poor working conditions are an important reason for early
exit from employment. Accidents, stress at work and ill health can
lead to negative feelings about work; low job satisfaction can result
in absenteeism and early retirement from work.
48 Occupational changes or a slowdown in the economy may result
in a sector going into decline, with consequent increased stress
upon workers. According to recent surveys, the intention to retire
earlier is greater among workers who perform physical work, which
49 Financial and personal motivations are also very important.
Social security systems can encourage a person to stay in or to
leave the labour market; more generous social insurance and pensions
(or other monetary rewards) may persuade an individual to retire
early. Workers are also likely to retire if their spouse is already
retired, or if they have care responsibilities for grandchildren
or frail older parents or relatives.
However, if a person is getting sufficient stimulus and rewards
from work, that is a key motivation for remaining longer in employment,
as well as being an important determinant of good health. To encourage people
to remain in employment for longer, it is important to begin valuing
the skills of older workers, and respecting the experience, knowledge
and competence which they have gained through a long working life.
To feel that they have been ‘set aside’ and that their skills are
not valued will not encourage workers to remain in employment.Note
51 There are growing concerns about the working environment,
the quality of work available to older workers and the obstacles
that they face to remaining in or re-entering employment, including
pressures to balance their working lives with care duties for family
52 This is particularly true for older women, who face additional
discrimination in employment for various reasons, including gender
inequalities in income, which exist at all life stages and which
are particularly pronounced for older women. This impacts not only
on their immediate earnings but on their income in retirement and
is due largely to the cumulative effect of time taken out of the
workplace to meet caring responsibilities for dependent family members.
The rapporteur believes that the particularly vulnerable situation
of older women resulting from the gender pay gap and the fewer opportunities
that exist for career progression, weaker job tenure and the specific difficulties
faced by those who care for dependent elderly relatives need to
be addressed as a priority.Note
One of the key reasons why employers are not doing more to
try and recruit or retain older workers as part of their management
strategy is also that they do not yet understand how to do so effectively.
While employers are becoming more aware of the importance to provide
better work-life balance for working parents, they might have not
yet gained a full understanding of what reconciliation of work and
family life means to the older worker.Note
6 Work as an attractive and fulfilling option for
workers of all ages
55 In the rapporteur’s view, there are apparent tensions
arising from the clash between economic policies that promote flexible
workforce, de-regulation and competitiveness in global economy,
and the need to adapt the labour market, in particular, to the realities
of demographic change and longevity. We need to reconcile the idea
of a competitive economy and labour markets with the right to dignity
at work, the value of inter-generational solidarity and the needs
of the families.
In their attempt to ‘make work pay’, governments may be tempted
to indiscriminately cut long-term unemployment benefits and force
people into low paid, poor quality jobs rather than address the
many barriers that prevent older workers from remaining active.
Forcing older workers to remain in employment by reducing their
social protection rights is only going to increase social exclusion
57 One has to bear in mind that ill-conceived reforms of pension
systems may create an influx of the number of people on disability
pensions. Governments should pay special attention to the most vulnerable
when reforming their pensions systems. The vast majority of older
people with insufficient income have just not had the opportunity
to build an adequate pension due to illness, career breaks for caring
duties, long-term unemployment, discrimination and social exclusion.
58 There is a danger that pension reforms aiming to extend working
life may disadvantage the less well off, forcing them to remain
economically active, while the better off will continue to retire
early. To be successful, policies have to be capable of meeting
the needs of different groups, with an adequate safety net available
for those for whom employment is an unrealistic option.
59 By increasing the number of healthy and active older persons,
governments will be able to provide more generous assistance to
those in need of health care and long-term care and to make public
funding available for education, training and welfare services.
Encouraging people to take more personal responsibility is not a substitute
for social security systems based on solidarity. On the contrary,
these measures can ensure that social security systems survive and
thrive for the benefit of those who need them most.
60 Resources have to be allocated effectively by refraining from
classifying older people categorically as vulnerable and by allowing
them to maintain independence and control over their lives. It is
possible to motivate workers to work longer if they are provided
with suitable incentives, if they are offered attractive and flexible working
arrangements and if they are in good health.
61 The rapporteur believes that the idea of flexible work generally
and continued working until and beyond ‘normal’ retirement age requires
a policy adaptation to the following issues:
6.1 Improving transition between work and retirement,
paying attention to the most vulnerable
62 An important incentive to work longer is clearly
provided by the financial benefit of staying active. One of the
key ways of keeping older people employed longer will be the introduction
into national pension schemes of a flexible mix between work and
63 Giving older people the possibility to switch from paid to
unpaid work and vice versa and using part time retirement schemes
could give them a more meaningful, purposeful and healthier life,
while expanding their community involvement and tackling serious
problems of society. This facilitates a gradual step down and avoids
the abruptness of cliff-edge retirement.
6.2 Promotion of health and physical and mental well-being
64 Improved health and safety conditions and ergonomic
job designs are key to improving working conditions and productivity
for workers of all ages. Action targeted at promoting the health
status of individuals, their quality of life and functional abilities
as they age can also be a powerful retaining factor.
65 From the employer’s point of view, these policies and investments
in workers’ health offer clear benefits, in terms of reduced absenteeism,
improved productivity and retention of experienced and knowledgeable workers.
66 In recent years, work intensity has increased across Europe
as a result of increased competition and changes in the organisation
of work. It is possible to limit exposure to more demanding working
conditions, through the use of teamwork, job-sharing, task rotation,
redefinition of tasks between team members.
6.3 Fitting jobs to older workers: making work arrangements
67 If work is designed in appropriate ways, with flexible
work schedules (including part-time, more paid time off, telecommuting
or job sharing) both younger and older workers can better juggle
their priorities, such as looking after children, elderly parents,
grandchildren, education, volunteering, or simply more leisure time, especially
after several decades of a full-time job.
This holds true for workers of all ages and policies need
to provide them with a degree of choice. Flexible working time is
an important instrument for ‘humanising’ working life, particularly
in demanding activities such as night shift work.Note
6.4 Fitting older workers to jobs: life-long learning
and ‘work ability’
69 Longevity societies will increasingly be knowledge
societies. As skills tend to become outdated more quickly as longevity
increases, there is a pressing need for ongoing training, re-training
and changing career direction, including learning towards the end
of the work career.
There should be increased investment in lifelong learning
at mid-career. The attractiveness of training and its potential
returns for older workers can be improved by adapting teaching methods
and content to their needs, by the provision of short, modular courses
and through the recognition of prior learning and experience.Note
7 Active ageing is more than just "employment"
The role of activity in longevity is now an accepted
fact in evidence-based medicine. The decrease in heavy manual labour
that once led to premature mortality has played its part in lengthening
life expectancy. A sedentary and passive lifestyle is one of the
main factors in morbidity and mortality at all ages, especially
in old age. Research clearly shows that actively engaged individuals
are more likely to remain mentally and physically stimulated and,
as a result, enjoy a better quality of life.Note
72 Furthermore, there are more existential reasons that can keep
older people working and/or staying active in society: the desire
to feel useful, be around people, do meaningful tasks, and continue
73 We must also acknowledge that active aging is about much more
than employment. After retirement age, older people continue to
contribute to society in a voluntary capacity, as consumers, carers,
citizens, etc. The lack of accurate information on the economic
contribution of older people to society contributes to stereotyping older
people as unproductive and dependent.
The World Health Organisation adopted the term ‘active ageing’
as the process of optimising opportunities for health, participation
and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.Note
75 The rapporteur believes that opening up the cities and the
local communities to people of all ages and encouraging volunteer
work groups is one of the social innovations that must be developed
in the 21st century. Skilled and experienced older people act as
volunteers in schools, communities, religious institutions, businesses
and health and political organisations. Voluntary work benefits
older people by increasing social contacts and psychological well-being
while making a significant contribution to their communities.
76 In addition, shortages of labour will put pressure on the
voluntary sector and the informal care sector. There are numerous
possibilities to tap into the potential of older workers’ talents.
Governments should identify barriers and introduce incentives for
older unemployed people to become active in voluntary work and be trained
for new tasks and new networks.
77 In this regard, the rapporteur welcomes the initiative of
the European Union to declare 2011 as the European Year of Volunteering
and hopes that special attention will be given to the contribution
of older people to society through unpaid work.
78 In the past century, life spans have been divided
into three periods: youth which is devoted to learning, maturity
to working and raising a family and old age which means retirement
and age-related illnesses. This distinction has already become blurred,
as many Europeans have the potential to live ‘several lives’, which questions
traditional family structures and often entails a change in career
directions, adding several additional years in good health after
79 The rapporteur is of the opinion that increased longevity
forces us to take a new look at age structures in our societies.
Life-course patterns should be structured in a way that simultaneously
allows young and older people more options and more freedom of choice,
while ensuring income or social security, within a framework of
80 Active ageing policies need to ascertain the extent to which
there is potential for redesigning life- course patterns in such
a way that they permit new combinations of work, private and family
life, training and continuous learning, personal development, sport,
leisure time and volunteering at all ages.
81 Ageing takes place within the context of others – friends,
co-workers, neighbours and family members. This is why interdependence
as well as inter-generational solidarity are important tenets of
active ageing policies both inside and outside the workplace.
82 While a high fertility rate is obviously important for a country’s
future, the true wealth of a society can also be measured by its
ability to embrace all the different age groups and enable them
to live together in harmony.
83 Finally, the rapporteur welcomes the recent proposal by the
European Commission that 2012 be designated as the “European Year
for Active Ageing”, which aims to help create better job opportunities
and working conditions for the growing numbers of older people in
Europe, help them take an active role in society and encourage healthy
ageing. He very much hopes that the European Parliament and Council
will endorse the initiative and encourages the Council of Europe
to also play an active role in 2012, in close co-operation with
the European Union.