Increased life expectancy, later entry into the labour market after longer studies and a planned increase in the insurance period required for a full pension have, over the past decade, pushed back the age at which the "right to rest" is required. This trend is expected to grow: according to projections by the Pensions Advisory Council (“COR-Conseil d’orientation des retraites”) , the average retirement age is expected to be around 64 years by the late 2030s, compared to 61 years and 10 months today, assuming no change in legislation. Emmanuelle Prouet and Julien Rousselon stress that this projected increase makes the employment of older workers "a crucial issue both for the collective future of our system and for the individual trajectories of future retirees". For the authors of this report, the challenge is to ensure that the increase in the retirement age does not lead to situations of unemployment or non-chosen inactivity, which are costly for society and public accounts.
Employment of older workers: where does France stand?
Catching up: since 2000, the employment of older people has increased rapidly due to the combined effect of a decline in early retirement, demographic changes and pension reforms. This is reflected in the employment rate for 55-64 year olds, which rose from 30% in 2000 to 51% in 2017. In a nutshell, according to the authors "The employment rate is now more likely to decline around the ages of 60-62, while for a long time the 60-year mark appeared to be a norm for leaving the labour market". However, the employment rate for 60-64 year olds remains well below the European average, at just under 30% in 2017 compared to over 42% in the European Union. All in all, the result is the following: out of ten French people aged 60, four are in employment, three are retired and three are unemployed or inactive.
In terms of job quality, older people appear to be less vulnerable than the rest of the population. Overall, they are better paid, more often on permanent contracts and less underemployed than their younger counterparts. They are also less often unemployed. When they are, however, they face greater difficulties in returning to employment, and long-term unemployment. An illustrative figure among others: in 2016, only 1.6% of the over-50s registered with the public employment service (“Pôle emploi") returned to employment the following month, compared to 3.7% for those aged 25-49.
Keeping working or stopping is not always a choice. Namely, seniors face "specific difficulties" that can hinder their job retention or return to employment. Among all those identified and analysed by the authors, we should note in particular the weight of negative age-related representations. Life expectancy is increasing, but stereotypes remain. Age is thus, together with gender, the first declared ground for work-related discrimination experiences, far ahead of ethnic origin for example.
Another obstacle is the health status. More than half of those who leave employment early attribute their decision to health problems. This figure must be taken seriously in a context of an almost stagnant disability-free life expectancy at age 50 since the early 2000s. More generally, difficult or even arduous working conditions, without adaptation of the workplace, can sometimes discourage job retention. 28% of the older workers surveyed cite this reason as important in their retirement decision.
Does the current pension system provide an incentive to work?
The French retire at 61 years and 10 months on average - one year later than in 2003. And if "enjoying retirement as long as possible" remains the reason for leaving most often cited by new retirees, two other reasons follow: reaching the pensionable age (69%) and becoming eligible to the full replacement rate (67%). These statistics make the authors say that "the rules of the pension system that structure the trade-off between pension level and retirement duration have a strong impact on the decision to stop [or not] working".
Emmanuelle Prouet and Julien Rousselon also note that the measures consisting in modifying the required insurance period have an impact of the same magnitude as the increase in the pensionable age. As for the effects of these measures, they warn they are not mechanical. This is reflected in the 2010 pension reform. Its flagship measure, the extension of the pensionable age from 60 to 62 years, has resulted in an increase in the employment of older people for half of those concerned but with, for the others, significant transfers towards unemployment and inactivity (notably long-term illness and disability).
How can we make a difference? One thing is for sure: measures aimed at extending careers cannot ignore a strengthening of prevention policies as part of a more global age management policy. The aim here is to prevent occupational exhaustion, in particular by improving working conditions before the end of a career, but also to act on the levers of lifelong professional training and intergenerational management of jobs and skills within companies and organisations, which would also make it possible to change representations. The authors conclude that "Freedom of choice without quality of life at work will not be exercised in a way that is conducive to longer working lives".
Indeed, when the French who could technically retire are asked why they want to continue working, the first reason they put forward is the interest in their job and satisfactory working conditions.