By Floyd Norris, The New York Times, October 19, 2012
THROUGHOUT much of the developed world, people are working more years than they used to. Many are retiring later, presumably because they need the money.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development this week released its latest figures on the proportion of people in older age groups working, showing that some European countries, whose social welfare systems had made possible early retirements, have begun to keep more people on the job.
In 2003, less than a third of German men age 60 to 64, and less than a sixth of German woman of the same age, were working. In the numbers for 2011 released this week, more than half of the men and a third of the women had jobs.
But as can be seen in the accompanying charts, it is still relatively rare for Germans over 65 to continue working.
Italy is one country that seems to have avoided change. In 2001, about 30 percent of men in their early 60s had jobs, as did 11 percent of women. A decade later, the figures were virtually identical.
Older workers in the United States have long been more likely to have jobs than their European counterparts. But since 2008, the proportion of American men in their early 60s who are working has fallen by three percentage points, to 54.7 percent, as a weak economy limited hiring. But the proportion of men with jobs in the 65 to 69 age bracket has continued to rise as men who could do so delayed retirement.
The proportion of men in their early 60s with jobs also fell in Iceland, Portugal and Turkey. In Greece, the proportion of men in their early 60s with jobs fell to 37.5 percent in 2011 from 44 percent in 2008.
In many countries, said Anne Sonnet, a senior economist at the O.E.C.D. and team leader of its older workers review, “the main problem for older workers is to be hired” for new jobs, not to keep jobs they already have. “There is almost no job mobility for older workers.”
The figures were released for the 34 countries in the O.E.C.D., which includes all the major developed countries and some countries that have developed since the organization was established half a century ago. But the group still does not include such rapidly growing countries as Brazil, India and China.
Ms. Sonnet said the recession that enveloped the world in 2008, and that seems to have returned in some European countries, was different from earlier downturns in the 1970s and 1980s in that countries did not encourage early retirements of older workers to make jobs available to younger people.
She sees longer working years as a good thing in a world where life expectancies have risen. “For the society, it is very important to work longer to avoid higher social costs from having to pay retirees for many, many years,” she said in a telephone interview.
There remains a large diversity in employment patterns, a diversity that is growing in Europe. While Germans are more likely to keep working into their 60s, their French neighbors still generally quit before they reach their 60th birthdays. In 2011, just one in five Frenchmen age 60 to 64 still held jobs, as did one in six women.
Of the 34 O.E.C.D. countries, only Hungary, with 17.9 percent of men in their early 60s holding jobs, had lower employment among men in that age range. At the other extreme, more than 70 percent of men 60 to 64 were working in Iceland, New Zealand, Chile and Japan.
In five countries — Slovakia, Belgium, Spain, France and Hungary — fewer than 10 percent of men in their late 60s had jobs, In four others — Mexico, Iceland, Chile and South Korea — more than half of those men were employed.