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The long goodbye: Age, demographics, and flexibility in retirement

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Abstract

The current literature on retirement decisions has given inadequate attention to the impacts of increasing life expectancy. This paper examines workforce aging and retirement within a framework that not only includes age, but also integrates increasing life expectancy into the discussion. Employee preference surveys regarding choice in retirement are supported by the demographic and by work-time compression arguments for retirement flexibility. We outline arguments why partial-retirement policies would be a practical and timely transition strategy for organizations and societies in a world of increasing life expectancies and aging workforces, especially when facing the imminent retirement of the large post-war baby-boom generation.
Canadian Studies in Population 38, No. 3–4 (Fall/Winter 2011):59–74.
The long goodbye: Age, demographics,
and exibility in retirement
David K. Foot
Professor Emeritus
Department of Economics
University of Toronto
Rosemary A. Venne
Department of Human Resources and Organizational Behaviour
Edwards School of Business
University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon
E-mail: venne@edwards.usask.ca
Abstract
The current literature on retirement decisions has given inadequate attention to the impacts
of increasing life expectancy. This paper examines workforce aging and retirement within a
framework that not only includes age, but also integrates increasing life expectancy into the
discussion. Employee preference surveys regarding choice in retirement are supported by the
demographic and by work-time compression arguments for retirement exibility. We outline
arguments why partial-retirement policies would be a practical and timely transition strategy
for organizations and societies in a world of increasing life expectancies and aging workforces,
especially when facing the imminent retirement of the large post-war baby-boom generation.
Keywords: Workforce aging, life expectancy, partial retirement.
Résumé
La littérature actuelle sur les décisions relatives à la retraite n’accorde pas assez d’importance à
l’effet d’une plus grande espérance de vie. Cet article examine le vieillissement de la population
active et la retraite dans un cadre qui ne comprend pas seulement l’âge, mais qui intègre aussi
une plus grande espérance de vie au débat. Les sondages sur les préférences des employés en ce
qui concerne les choix de retraite se basent sur les données démographiques et les arguments
relatifs aux compressions de travail pour une plus grande souplesse à l’égard de la retraite.
Nous donnons des arguments voulant que les politiques en faveur de retraite partielle soient une
stratégie de transition pratique et opportune pour les organisations et les sociétés dans un monde
de plus grande espérance de vie pour les populations actives vieillissantes, surtout face à la retraite
imminente de l’importante génération du baby-boom de l’après-guerre.
Mots-clés : vieillissement de la population, espérance de vie, retraite partielle.
Canadian Studies in Population 38, No. 3–4 (Fall/Winter 2011)
60
Introduction
“Gloom and doom” articles dealing with population aging and, in particular,
the aging of the labour force, abound in North America. Most of these articles
focus on the impending retirement of the large post-war baby-boom generation.
For example, a recent newspaper headline warned that “the transition [to an aging
society] will be large and abrupt” (Milner and Scofeld 2009). In addition, retire-
ment of the baby-boom generation is frequently ngered as the culprit for future
labour force shortages (e.g., see Conference Board of Canada 2006). While there
is no doubt that both the Canadian population and labour force are aging, the
process is gradual (not abrupt), has been anticipated for many years, and can be
handled with creative policies to ameliorate its impacts. This paper discusses these
issues within a framework that not only includes age in the retirement decision, but
also takes into account rising life expectancy.
We rst outline the role of changing demographics over the post-war period,
focusing on observed increases in life expectancy. In general, the large body of
literature on retirement does not adjust for increases in life expectancy. We address
this gap and note that these increases have been ongoing and substantial—approxi-
mately two years a decade—and that omitting this inuence from theoretical mod-
els and policy discussions has been a critical oversight in the retirement literature.
We review the recent relevant literature on workforce aging and show how the
observed trends and survey results are more richly interpreted within the context
of this alternative framework. What is missing from much of the discussion is
an integration of life expectancy into retirement issues. To begin with, we pres-
ent an overview of historical trends in life expectancy and retirement. We then
consider labour force participation rates and explore employee preference surveys
for exibility in retirement. Next, we review the growing literature on workforce
ageism and related productivity concerns. We then outline work-time compression
arguments for retirement exibility. Finally, we present arguments why exible or
partial retirement would be a practical, timely, and useful transition strategy for
organizations and society toward formally recognizing increases in life expectancy.
We conclude with a discussion of some policy initiatives that would encourage
exibility in the baby-boom generation’s retirement decisions.
Life expectancy and retirement
Almost all studies in aging use the concept of chronological age—number
of years since birth—as the explanatory variable. Very few studies in aging have
dened and used the expected number of years left to live as the explanatory vari-
able. In a seminal paper in the health economics literature, Zweifel et al. (1999) con-
tended that in explaining healthcare expenditures, the term “years lived”—namely,
chronological age—was a “red herring,” and that “years left to live” eliminated the
signicance and importance of chronological age as an explanatory variable. More
recently, demographers Sanderson and Scherbov (2007, 2008) have argued that we
should think of people as having two ages, the usual chronological age (number of
birthdays experienced) and the number of remaining birthdays a person can expect,
Foot, Venne: Age, Demographics, and Flexibility in Retirement
61
or one’s remaining life expectancy.1 They point out that none of the common tools
for discussing population aging adjust for increases in life expectancy.
To discuss remaining life expectancy with respect to Canadian data, we begin
with an examination of life expectancy and retirement. Over the fty-ve-year pe-
riod between 1951 and 2006, life expectancy in Canada increased from 68.6 years
to 80.8 years—an increase of 12.2 years, or 18 per cent. For males the increase was
12.1 years, while for females the increase was 12.2 years. However, as dramatic as
these numbers are, the results are even more dramatic when viewed from the per-
spective of expected number of years in retirement. A rst indication of just how
important these increases have been can be measured by calculating the expected
number of years left to live after retirement at some xed age, say 65 years. In
1951 the average Canadian worker could anticipate 3.6 years of retirement if she/
he remained in the workforce until age 65. By 2006, this number had risen to 15.8
years, more than a fourfold increase. For males the increase was from 1.3 to 13.4
years, while for females it was from 5.8 to 18 years. These are low estimates; an
earlier retirement would increase these numbers, as would a calculation based on
remaining life expectancy for individuals who have already reached age 65.
These numbers can be used to integrate life expectancy into the retirement
decision. In 1976, based on a retirement age of 65, the average person could ex-
pect to live an additional 9.2 years. With this arbitrary “standard,” the equivalent
retirement age in 1951 that promised 9.2 years in retirement would have been 59.4
years, and in 2006 it would have been 71.6 years. Alternatively, a relative rather than
absolute standard could be used. The 9.2 years in 1976 represented 12.4 per cent
of expected life expectancy in retirement. The equivalent proportion applied to
life expectancy produces a life-expectancy-adjusted retirement age of 60.1 in 1951
and 70.8 in 2006.
Academic and policy work on population aging and retirement has some-
times acknowledged, but has not usually taken into account, these life-expectancy
increases. For example, many pension plans have maintained age 65 as the basis
for determining retirement benets for members, and for the calculation of the
actuarial value of their pension plans. These calculations have resulted in “pen-
sion holidays” in good economic times and “pension shortfalls” in bad economic
times, with signicant implications for the long-term viability of the sponsoring
organizations and plans. In fact, the above increases in the expected number of
years in retirement pose a signicant challenge to many pension plans and help to
explain why there has been a decided shift from dened benet to dened contri-
bution (or even the withdrawal of) pension plans in recent years.
Moreover, this discussion ignores trends in retirement ages. Table 1 incorpo-
rates recent trends in retirement, as well as information on actual life expectancy at
age 65. The rst column shows life expectancy at birth. The second column shows
1. Sanderson and Scherbov’s concept of ‘prospective age’ (2007, 2008), which they dene
as the number of remaining birthdays a person can expect, is a relatively new measure.
Prospective age assigns age to people on the basis of their remaining life expectancy,
so, for example, 65-year-olds in 1900 and 65-year-olds in 2000 would have very
different prospective ages, due to rising longevity. They acknowledge that the concept
of prospective age is rarely used in demography, but point out there is a deciency, in
that none of the common tools (e.g., the proportion of elderly in the population or
median age) for discussing population aging adjust for increases in life expectancy.
Canadian Studies in Population 38, No. 3–4 (Fall/Winter 2011)
62
life expectancy at age 65. The numbers in the second column are higher than those
in the rst column because they are based only on persons who have survived
to age 65. The third column presents the actual average age of retirement.2 The
nal two columns calculate the number of years in retirement, rst using life ex-
pectancy at birth and then using life expectancy at age 65. The nal two columns
reveal the increasing number of years that people are spending in retirement, with
increases in life expectancy and decreases in the average age of retirement.
The results (last column) indicate that over the thirty-year period from 1976
to 2006 the average number of years in retirement increased from 16.4 to 23.4
years, an increase of 7 years, or 42.7 per cent. For males the increase was from
13.9 to 21.1 years, an increase of 7.2 years (52 per cent), while for females it was
from 19.4 to 25.7 years, an increase of 6.3 years (32 per cent). By 2006, the aver-
age Canadian male could anticipate over 21 years of retirement, and the average
2. The Labour Force Survey asks people who are not working, and who have left their
last job within the year prior to being surveyed, why they left this job. One of the
response categories is “retired.” The average or median retirement age is calculated
from this variable (Statistics Canada 2008).
Table 1: Life expectancy and retirement: Canada, 1976–2006 (yrs.).
Year
Life
Expectancy
at Birth
(LE)
Life
Expectancy
at Age 65
(LE65)
Average
Age of
Retirement
(AAR)
LE – AAR LE65 – AAR
TOTAL
1976 74.2 81.3 64.9 9.3 16.4
1981 75.3 82.0 64.6 10.7 17.4
1986 76.6 82.2 63.7 12.9 18.5
1991 77.8 83.0 62.7 15.1 20.3
1996 78.4 83.2 61.8 16.6 21.4
2001 79.6 84.0 61.5 18.1 22.5
2006 80.8 84.9 61.5 19.3 23.4
FEMALES
1976 77.8 83.3 63.9 13.9 19.4
1981 78.6 84.2 63.5 15.1 20.7
1986 79.9 84.3 62.8 17.1 21.5
1991 80.9 84.9 62.1 18.8 22.8
1996 81.2 84.9 60.9 20.3 24.0
2001 82.1 85.6 60.3 21.8 25.3
2006 83.0 86.4 60.7 22.3 25.7
MALES
1976 70.5 79.2 65.3 5.2 13.9
1981 72.0 79.7 65.1 6.9 14.6
1986 73.3 80.0 64.1 9.2 15.9
1991 74.6 80.8 63.1 11.5 17.7
1996 75.4 81.1 62.3 13.1 18.8
2001 77.0 82.0 62.3 14.7 19.7
2006 78.4 83.2 62.1 16.3 21.1
Source: Columns 1, 2: Statistics Canada (2009a, 2009b); column 3: Statistics
Canada (2009c); Columns 4, 5 calculations by the authors.
Foot, Venne: Age, Demographics, and Flexibility in Retirement
63
Canadian female could expect over 25 years of retirement. Since life expectancy
at the (variable) actual retirement age is slightly lower than at age 65, these esti-
mates should be considered as upper estimates. Nonetheless, these are substantial
increases in a relatively short time period.
These calculations give some indication of how remaining years of life can be
integrated with retirement decisions, planning, and policies. The increases in ex-
pected years in retirement reect both increases in life expectancy and reductions
in the average age of retirement over the period. The former is likely to continue,
but the latter may or may not (see below). These calculations also lead us to ex-
amine a number of issues that will be considered in the remainder of this paper,
beginning with labour force aging and followed by retirement preferences, ageism,
work-time compression, and, nally, policy considerations.
Labour force aging and participation
Several recent labour force projections have pointed out the inevitable aging
of the labour force. In the Martel et al. (2007) projections, the aging of the labour
force would be slightly more pronounced, assuming a continued increase in the
participation rate of older workers. However, they also point out that a contin-
ued increase in participation rates for older workers has the potential to delay by
only a few years the inevitable decline in the “overall” participation rate. A Policy
Research Initiative report (PRI 2005) notes that the labour force will begin to
decrease during the 2010s, not in absolute numbers but as a proportion of the
overall population.
Labour force participation rates have increased among Canadians aged 55-
plus in recent years, which seems to be a reversal of the steady decline in the re-
tirement age since the mid-1970s (see Table 1). The determinants of labour force
participation are many and varied, but Marshall and Ferrao (2007) point out that
overall participation rates are expected to increase with rising educational attain-
ment. Rising levels of education, improved health, less physically demanding jobs,
and a greater share of workers in professional occupations, which are all associ-
ated with higher participation rates, are likely to encourage people to remain in the
labour force longer (Judy and D’Amico 1997; Rix 2008). Since current women’s
labour force or career attachment is much stronger throughout the life cycle com-
pared to past generations, as new generations of women reach their retirement
years, higher participation rates are expected (Marshall and Ferrao 2007). All of
these reasons point to rising participation rates, especially among older workers.
Recent survey data indicate that worker preferences are for exibility in la-
bour force participation and in the retirement decision. There is little dispute that
older workers often desire transitional or partial retirement. In their article on
retaining older workers, Morissette et al. (2004) report from the Canadian General
Social Survey of 2002 that over one-quarter of retired respondents indicated that
they likely would have changed their decision to retire if they had been able to
reduce their work schedule without their pension being affected, by working either
fewer days per week or shorter days. University-educated retirees were most likely
to have continued working. They also point out that a worsening nancial situation
will unambiguously affect one’s view of continuing to work.
Canadian Studies in Population 38, No. 3–4 (Fall/Winter 2011)
64
Schellenberg and Ostrovsky (2008) note the strong prevalence of uncertainty
in terms of older workers’ retirement expectations, and that such uncertainty is
more widespread in Statistics Canada’s 2007 General Social Survey compared to
previous surveys. There is evidence that Canadians in their late 40s and early 50s
have delayed their planned age of retirement. Also, a recent large-scale survey of
Americans after the economic downturn of 2008 revealed that many plan to reset
their retirement clock, as respondents on average plan to postpone retirement by
4.2 years (Age Wave 2009). American opinion polls consistently indicate that two-
thirds or more of middle-aged and older workers plan to work in some capacity
in retirement (Rix 2008). One US study suggests that increased exibility in work
schedules (if provided by employers) would actually double the number of people
entering partial retirement (Munnell and Sass 2008).
In terms of work-time exibility, Gendron (1997) notes that surveys of older
workers indicate that the majority want gradual or transitional retirement. In the
province of Quebec, this survey documents public support for the concept of
gradual or transitional retirement, with greatest interest in those at mid-age and
nearing retirement. Preference for working 3.5 days per week at age 55, with a
gradual reduction in hours until they are working 0.5 days per week at age 70, was
at 75 per cent for those aged 45–54 and 72 per cent for those aged 25–44 (Gen-
dron 1997). If employers were to provide these work-time exibilities, it is likely
that older employees would be encouraged to work at later ages.
A more recent survey of Canadian workers remarks that the ideal work week
for older workers is Tuesday to Thursday from nine to noon. Though the major-
ity of workers indicated a desire to take full retirement when eligible, a signicant
minority indicated either a preference for gradual phased-in retirement or to retire
and then work on a gradual basis (RBC 2008). Close to half of older workers (55+
years) who were dissatised with their work-life balance report spending too much
time on the job (Uriarte-Landa and Hebert 2009). This is different from core-age
workers, who are most likely to associate work-life balance dissatisfaction with
“not enough time for family.”
Marshall and Ferrao (2007) suggest that older workers are making a conscious
transition towards retirement, with two-thirds of older part-time workers having a
shorter work week by preference.
Productivity concerns and age discrimination
The possibility of increasing numbers of aging workers in the labour force
raises issues of productivity and age discrimination that are often related to older
workers. For example, Martel et al. (2007) note that an increased number of older
workers could affect labour productivity in the future, while pointing out that
future economic growth will have to rely less on population (growth) and more
on higher productivity. While different authors draw on different data sources,
common themes emerge from their research ndings. In a preliminary study of
full-time male workers (using several decades of US census and population survey
data), Laitner and Stolyarov (2005) directly ask whether labour productivity is age
dependent. They tentatively conclude that aging of the labour force should boost
an economy’s average productivity per worker, since the fact of population aging
Foot, Venne: Age, Demographics, and Flexibility in Retirement
65
raises the proportion of workers with an accumulation of human capital from
experience. Disney (1996) also concludes that there is no evidence of adverse ef-
fects of aging on aggregate productivity. There is simply no evidence of a negative
association between the average age of the workforce and labour productivity.
England (2002) tackles the subject of forecasting the economic effects of aging.
He points out the difculty of forecasting in that “one must consider how people
will behave in situations that have no historic precedent” (2002: 2).
Segrave (2001) discusses a variety of workplace research which shows that
older workers are at least equal to their younger counterparts in productivity, with
slight decreases noted where there was substantial physical effort required. Mun-
nell and Sass (2008) view any productivity gap between older and younger workers
as minimal. While cognitive exibility and ability to learn do decline slightly, they
feel that older workers have sufcient mental agility to learn and adapt, if given
training. Beatty and Visser (2005) also challenge the myth of older workers and
their inability to learn. In particular, they point out that any differences in learning
between older and younger workers are accounted for by improving training design
and delivery. Making training age-friendly does not it becomes youth-unfriendly.
One potential problem is that employers may resist training older workers,
as they fear a shorter payback period to recoup their training investment. Robson
(2001) notes that a legitimate question for employers is whether spending incre-
mental training resources on older workers is a good investment, as the total time
over which to amortize their training costs might be less than that of a younger
worker. Yet he points out that older workers’ shorter expected time in the work-
force may not translate into shorter expected tenure with a given employer. In fact,
a number of researchers point out that job turnover is lower among older workers
than younger workers (Robson 2001). Rothwell et al. (2008) also note that older
workers have lower turnover rates, absenteeism, and injury rates.
Despite the above ndings, Hedge et al. (2006) call age discrimination the
most socially accepted form of prejudice, very ingrained in our society despite the
fact that there is a lack of clarity as to the denition of who exactly is an “older
worker.” Burchett (2005) notes that of the three forms of discrimination—racism,
sexism, and ageism—not everyone will experience the rst two, yet anyone who
lives long enough may be a victim of age discrimination. Whereas race and gender
discrimination are usually regarded as irrational, he points out that some view age
discrimination as a sound business practice. Hedge et al. (2006) note the perva-
sive nature of age discrimination in employment, and the persistence of negative
stereotypes of older workers, especially in the area of training. They discuss the
stereotypes as self-fullling prophecies, and recommend that human resource spe-
cialists need to gain a better understanding of issues surrounding older workers.
They remark that age discrimination complaints are on the rise in the US, though
with the caveat that with an aging labour force there are simply more eligible
people subject to discrimination. In Canada, age discrimination complaints have
also been rising recently, according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission
(CHRC 2010).
There seems to be agreement in human resource circles that ageism abounds
in the workplace. Rix posits that “it is hard to imagine that age will ever not be a
factor in employers’ personnel decisions” (2008: 132). Despite the fact that job
Canadian Studies in Population 38, No. 3–4 (Fall/Winter 2011)
66
tenure has declined (see Cappelli 2008) and the fact that most workers do not have
a lifetime career at a single workplace, employers often have an implicit, or some-
times explicit, preference for a younger employee over an older employee. Often
the stated reason for the preference is that the younger person will remain longer
on the job. The main factor inuencing the shedding of senior workers is the
cost calculation, done without regard to the value of experience or other factors
(such as loyalty and lower absenteeism; see Venneberg and Eversole 2010). It is
possible that actual knowledge of older workers’ lower absenteeism or discussion
of labour force shortages may help employers to value older workers more highly.
Discussion of lower job turnover and workplaces’ positive experiences in hiring
older workers (such as the targeted hiring of older workers at Home Depot hard-
ware stores) may help (see Rix 2008). The Canadian Association of Retired People
(CARP) and American Association of Retired People (AARP) give recognition
to employers based on their positive treatment of older workers. Combating age
discrimination can be done with information and ad campaigns aimed at educating
and challenging employers’ stereotypes about older workers.
Segrave (2001) traces the history of age discrimination in the US, and points
out that legislation has removed the obvious trappings of age bias (such as help-
wanted ads specifying an age range), but in practice the law has helped only within
a very narrow range, and that age bias still persists. There are, obviously, limits
to legislative protection. Munnell and Sass (2008) caution that strengthening age
discrimination legislation may not be a viable solution, as age discrimination is
hard to prove or disprove. For example, Barry Witkin, who founded Prime 50, an
employment service for aged-50-plus workers in Canada, notes that a fair amount
of age discrimination exists but that it is couched in terms “such as a person won’t
t in or that they are overqualied or that they may be too expensive” (Galt 2006).
Also, any strengthening of legislation may have the unintended effect of employ-
ers reacting to a tougher legal environment by avoiding older workers altogether.
The Urban Institute’s Retirement project (2007) asks: “Are employers willing
to hire and retain older workers?” While it notes that employer attitudes toward
older workers are mixed, the expectation is that future demand for older workers
may increase, due to demographics and job demand. For example, the expectation
is that jobs in the future will be more cognitively challenging and less physically
demanding, and require more interpersonal skills, which benets older workers.
Erickson (2008) optimistically predicts that the shift to knowledge-based positions
and fewer physically demanding jobs will result in a workplace less marked by
concerns about ageism.
An example of the positive demand for older workers in partial retirement
has been presented by DeLong (2004). He predicts that many organizations will
be overwhelmed with threats of lost knowledge due largely to baby-boomer retire-
ments. In the past few decades, the industrialized world has experienced unprec-
edented advances in technology and scientic domains, made possible in large part
by the proliferation of information technologies. DeLong recommends develop-
ing a human resource infrastructure for knowledge retention, including partial
retirement and methods of knowledge transfer. Despite strong interest in these
partial-retirement programs, they tend to be offered informally and are limited in
scope, due to a range of legal barriers that make it difcult to implement these
Foot, Venne: Age, Demographics, and Flexibility in Retirement
67
programs. He expects that there will be pressure to ease the restrictions against
and formalize these programs. He acknowledges that partial retirement is just a
stop-gap measure unless it includes measures such as training and mentoring to
transfer knowledge. The periods of partial retirement can allow organizations to
use employees’ expertise in roles such as mentors, trainers, and consultants, and
in special assignments. In terms of partial retirement, Erickson (2008) discusses
cyclical or project-based work, dened as hard work interspersed with leisure, as
one popular option. Another exible option is for a retiree-on-call program, where
employees are hired back on a contract basis (Galt 2006). Munnell and Sass (2008)
also echo these concerns about lost institutional knowledge, with the caveat that
these concerns may be industry-specic rather than widespread.
Demographics and work-time compression
Having discussed various concerns regarding labour force and aging, it is time
to discuss two additional trends that support the case for timely action on these
issues. These are the demographic and work-time compression arguments for con-
tributing to increasing older worker participation in the labour force. The impend-
ing retirement of the large baby-boom generation in North America intensies the
need for addressing these issues. Many baby-boomers born in the late 1940s have
started to retire, and the much larger group born in the 1950s are poised to enter
their sixties over the decade 2010–2020. With ever more people entering the older
worker category (however it is dened), the demographic impetus for developing
and implementing exible or partial-retirement policies is becoming increasingly
important. Worker preference for these options has been outlined above, and the
higher average educational levels of this generation, and increased numbers, are
likely to impose greater pressures on employers and governments for solutions.
Moreover, the trends outlined above (see Table 1) indicate that there has been
a noticeable compression in the portion of the average worker’s life devoted to
labour force participation. Sunter and Morisette (1994) note that the trends to
more education and earlier retirement, coupled with longer life expectancy, have
shortened or compressed the portion of the life cycle devoted to paid work, and
quite noticeably so, in the last quarter of the 20th century. For example, by the late
20th century, workers (e.g., males at age 16) will spend 69 per cent of their remain-
ing life expectancy in the labour force, compared to 90 per cent for workers (again,
males at age 16) earlier in the 20th century.
Will the baby-boomer generation be working longer? While it is impossible
to model employer demand, recent research suggests that workers will consider
working longer at jobs they enjoy, assuming good health and exible working con-
ditions (Ibbott et al. 2006). With the distinction between middle age and old age
being blurred, and with many of those aged 65-plus belonging to the “young-old”
group of active seniors, Thorpe (2002) contends that it is time to question who we
consider to be “old.” Rix (2008) describes old age as being pushed back, with gen-
eral increases in health status at older ages. Ibbott et al. (2006) point out that with
disability-free life expectancy on the rise, Canadians experience a longer period of
labour force inactivity in relatively good health.
Canadian Studies in Population 38, No. 3–4 (Fall/Winter 2011)
68
Given industrialized countries’ concerns regarding the aging population and
future labour force supply, some researchers have pointed out that our retirement
age is early, relative to our rising life expectancy. This fact has been noted especially
in Japan, a country whose people have some of the world’s longest life expectan-
cies. Myles (2005) advises that we need to take advantage of our increased longev-
ity gains by offsetting our longer period of transition into adulthood with later
retirement ages (see Beaujot and Kerr 2007 regarding delayed transitions). Given
our increased life expectancy, Munnell and Sass (2008) point out that working
longer does not mean having fewer years in retirement than workers earlier in the
postwar era. This point is consistent with our calculations in Table 1. Indeed from
Table 1, we see that even working three years longer, a person would still have four
more years of retirement in 2006 compared to 1976.
Sanderson and Scherbov (2008) point out that a 60-year-old man in Western
Europe today has about the same remaining life expectancy as a 43-year-old man
in 1800. They lament that none of our common tools for discussing population
aging adjust for these increases in life expectancy. With these increases in life ex-
pectancy, they question our commonly used indicators of aging that assume that
people become old at the chronological age of 65. Erickson (2008: 61) speaks
of the longer life expectancy not in terms of prolonging our years of being old
but of potentially extending our period of an active middle age (which has been
compressed of late). She proposes that we deal with the looming baby-boomer re-
tirement by tapping into our longer life expectancy in order to “retire retirement.”
Policy initiatives
Taylor (2002) describes policymaking on age and employment as being in its
infancy. McMullin et al. (2008) lament that only a few policy changes concerning
retirement have been made, and that these are more likely to be driven by con-
cerns about the economic consequences of population aging than by concerns for
the well-being of older workers (see, for example, Government of Canada 2006).
They also note that there is little evidence of a coherent policy framework for
addressing the challenges of population aging. A Policy Research Initiative report
(PRI 2005) describes a current employment system that is still tilted towards early
retirement. Indeed, for the past two decades organizations have used early retire-
ment plans and buyouts to make room for younger workers (Galt 2006). Policies
to encourage later retirement are seldom discussed, let alone implemented.
Markham and Timmins (2001) suggest that a practical partial retirement pro-
gram would allow an employee to work part-time and accrue benets based on
hours worked while at the same time collecting a pension for days not worked.
Brown et al. (2001) outline how this exibility might be manifested for the in-
dividual worker. For example, they propose that a worker might work Tuesday
through Thursday and contribute to a pension plan, and then take Monday and
Friday off and draw pension benets on those two days. Alternatively, they pro-
pose another example whereby an individual’s work year would consist of work
for seven months of the year, during which the worker would be employed full-
time and contribute to a pension. For the other ve months, the worker would be
considered retired and draw from the pension plan.
Foot, Venne: Age, Demographics, and Flexibility in Retirement
69
Compared to North America, European countries seem to be more willing to
experiment and encourage creative retirement programs. For example, a compara-
tive study of transitional-retirement programs found that a majority of European
Union countries have introduced legislation allowing transitional or partial retire-
ment (Pedersini 2001). These European schemes aim at retaining older people
within the active population by decreasing their working time and at the same time
granting some sort of income-support measure. A typical example is a program
that allows an older worker to work half-time from the age of 55 until full retire-
ment age, with pay for time worked and a pension for the remainder of the time.
In contrast, a BNAC survey mentions that most American employers who did
not have phased-retirement programs cited as a reason for not offering them the
simple fact that they had never considered them (Robson 2001).
Bass (2005) refers to older workers as the only untapped pool of highly skilled
labour that can be called upon during possible labour shortages.3 He proposes
career services, such as elder-opportunity organizations, for older workers wanting
to return to work. Japan for example, has established a number of organization-
al structures to assist older workers with jobs after traditional retirement. North
America has CARP and AARP (Canada and US, respectively), which function as
advocacy groups for older workers. Munnell and Sass (2008) also propose govern-
ment counselling, re-training, and job matching services for older workers.
The same constraints or reservations that employers have against job sharing,
part-time work, and reduced work-weeks will also be issues with transitional or
partial retirement. For example, employers may have difculty shifting full-time
job duties into the part-time realm. Munnell and Sass (2008) point out that part-
time employment is expensive in the sense that the employer must spread out the
cost of recruiting, training, scheduling, and evaluating workers over fewer hours
of labour. It is certainly not impossible, as many employers have discovered sav-
ings and exibilities in using these schedules. For example Olmsted and Smith
(1997) discuss savings in terms of retention of valuable skills and expansion of the
recruitment pool. White (1987), for example, points out that evidence shows that
there are gains in work performance as hours are shortened, and losses as hours
become long. Thus, one obstacle to partial retirement is the nature of the xed
costs per employee. Various solutions deal with lowering the cost of hiring older
workers. One proposed solution is a cap on Employment Insurance (EI) for older
workers past retirement age, such that older workers no longer pay into (or receive)
EI. Munnell and Sass (2008) suggest eliminating payroll taxes for employees aged
62 plus in the US.
On the other hand, several researchers make the case for non-age-specic
policies for older workers. For example, Taylor (2002: 38) states that programs
developed for older workers are simplistic, in that chronological age is of limited
value in determining employment-related needs of any person, “as if this [age] is
always an older person’s most important characteristic.” In this matter, Rix (2008)
seems to concur, in that properly designed policies that aim to expand employ-
ment opportunities for older people should benet workers of all ages. They point
3. Many countries are still dealing with the after effects of the most recent recession. It
is hard to predict whether or not there will be shortages over this coming decade. Of
course there are always shortages in some specic work areas. See Cappelli (2003) on
this issue.
Canadian Studies in Population 38, No. 3–4 (Fall/Winter 2011)
70
out that there is a danger in tailoring policies only for older workers. Nevertheless,
at the very least many policy analysts recommend information campaigns encour-
aging employers to consider older employees. Thus, positive marketing of older
workers is proposed, resembling the “Freedom 55” insurance advertisements that
portray younger seniors engaged in active leisure activities.
An International Labour Organization (ILO) publication (Auer and Fortuny
2000) recommends partial retirement, and describes a exible work-retirement
transition as a good example of active aging that has many advantages, including
the retention of experience with the employing rm. Like Osberg (2005), Auer
and Fortuny (2000) challenge the “boxes model of life,” with its structured se-
quencing of education, paid work, and retirement. Osberg (2005) also notes that
the baby-boom cohort has experienced more career instability than the smaller
cohort that precedes it. Instead of policies directed only at older workers, sup-
port for workers in managing career risks throughout their working lives may be
of more help. Life-long-learning policies such as tax incentives for education and
work-life leaves for upgrading or changing careers, would be useful for all workers,
especially with the increasing fragmentation in career patterns (see Thomas and
Venne 2002).
The tide may be changing in Canada. Mandatory retirement has recently been
banned in all jurisdictions in Canada,4 though several researchers expect that its
abolition will not likely have a major impact on the age of retirement (Taylor 2002;
Ibbott et al. 2006). The Canadian Expert Panel on Older Workers’ report (HRSDC
2008) discussed barriers to increased labour force participation of older (55-plus)
workers. The panel made several recommendations, including an awareness cam-
paign to reduce ageism, elimination of mandatory retirement, and implementation
of changes to tax and pension systems to remove barriers and disincentives to
work. The federal government made some changes to the taxation act that allow
employers to pay a partial pension to an employee while that same worker is also
contributing to the pension plan. This will allow retirees to return to the work-
force part-time (Tuck 2007). These tax policies, which recognize that individuals
may be in receipt of both pension and employment income simultaneously, will
be increasingly relevant. New rules for the Canada Pension Plan, to be phased in
over 2011 to 2016, eliminate the cessation test that required a beneciary to stop
working, and encourage participants to work longer by increasing the penalty for
early retirement (through a staged reduction of benets from 0.5 to 0.6 per cent a
month before age 65) and increasing the reward for delayed retirement (through a
staged increase in benets from 0.5 to 0.7 per cent per month up to age 70).
Pressures for a new strategy for retirement and pensions for all sectors may
emerge from these initiatives—one that no longer requires a predetermined xed
retirement age for receipt of benets or actuarial calculations, along with oppor-
tunities for workers to efciently self-index their pensions according to individual
needs.
4. Mandatory retirement has been banned in recent years in the following provinces:
British Columbia (2008), Saskatchewan (2007), Ontario (2006), Nova Scotia (2009),
and Newfoundland and Labrador (2007). All three of the territories, as well as
Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick, do not have
mandatory retirement, though in New Brunswick companies are allowed to enforce
it under “the terms or conditions of any retirement or pension plan” (CBC 2009).
Foot, Venne: Age, Demographics, and Flexibility in Retirement
71
As a nal point, the terms “exibility” and “diversity” come up in most pol-
icy discussions. These terms are in recognition that the baby-boom group is not
monolithic. On this point, McDaniel (2002) contends that the coming generations
of seniors in Canada are quite different from previous generations in terms of
ethnic diversity and family/gender-role changes experienced in the latter part of
the twentieth century, in effect making the behaviour of the future elderly less
predictable compared to past cohorts’ behaviours. The Canadian Expert Panel on
Older Workers’ report (HRSDC 2008) also makes note of the considerable diver-
sity in today’s older workers’ situations. Any new policy initiatives will need to be
cognizant of these new realities.
Conclusions
Bass (2005) notes that the concept of retirement has shifted from an aspira-
tion among older generations to being perceived as a universal expectation and
right among current generations. In this paper, we propose that increasing life
expectancy be integrated into the literature and policies concerning the retirement
decision. Integration could include various exibilities, such as partial-retirement
schemes that remove barriers to work in terms of pension and taxation systems.
We have documented that as a result of increases in life expectancy, there have
been large increases in retirement years and a compression of working life for the
average worker. We note that survey results indicate a strong demand for choice
and exibility in retirement and a strong interest in transitional or partial retire-
ment, particularly among older workers. Under these conditions, encouraging par-
tial retirement as a practical transition strategy for extending working lives makes
sense, especially with the large, well educated baby-boom generation now poised
to enter their retirement years. This policy would have the additional benets of
potentially ameliorating any future labour market shortage and generating addi-
tional taxes to support an aging population. Given that the earliest baby-boomer,
born in 1947, reached the average retirement age of 64 in 2011, now is the time
to implement these policies if Canada is to aim for a smooth workforce transition
over the next two decades of baby-boomer retirement.
Rix (2008) contends that older workers clearly seem prepared to work longer,
but would like to do it on their own terms. She speculates that the large baby-
boom generation will challenge the institution of retirement as they have shaped
other institutions throughout their lives. How much the baby-boom generation
will transform retirement is open to debate, but there will undoubtedly be pres-
sures to alter the retirement environment to suit the diverse demands of this large
generation. Given the documented desires for exibility in retirement and increas-
ing life expectancy, there needs to be, at the very least, removal of policies that
discourage partial retirement (e.g., pension penalties) and promotion of policies
designed to encourage an extension of the active middle years to take advantage
of expanded life expectancy. These policies need to be exible in order to capture
the diversity of older workers, some of whom may have limiting health problems
or may be involved in family care. The acknowledgment of increasing life expec-
tancy provides a framework for retirement (and pension) policy design and change
for the future.
Canadian Studies in Population 38, No. 3–4 (Fall/Winter 2011)
72
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Daily headlines warn American workers that their retirement years may be far from golden. The average worker needs more retirement income than ever, due to increased life expectancy and soaring health care costs. But the main components of the retirement income system—Social Security and employer-provided pensions—are on the decline. What’s more, fewer employers are providing retiree health insurance, forcing households to purchase their own coverage or do without. This bleak picture has inspired calls to fix Social Security, shore up employer pensions, and redesign 401(k) plans. But as Alicia Munnell and Steven Sass show in this thought-provoking book, the most effective response to the retirement income challenge lies elsewhere—in remaining in the workforce longer. At first blush, it may seem almost Orwellian to suggest that saving retirement requires reducing its length. But working longer does not mean working forever. By staying on the job for another two to four years, retirees in 2030 can be as well off as those in the current generation. Working Longer investigates the prospects for moving the average retirement age from 63, the current figure, to 66. The authors ask whether future generations of workers will be healthy enough to work beyond the current retirement age, as well as whether older men and women are willing to do so. They examine companies’ incentives to employ older workers and ask what government can do to promote continued participation in the workforce. Finally, they consider the challenge of ensuring a secure retirement for low-wage workers and those who are unable to continue to work. Spending a few additional years in the labor force can make a big difference. By continuing to work until their mid-60s or beyond, most individuals should be able to secure a reasonably comfortable retirement. Implementing such a change on a large scale will not be simple, however. It requires thought and planning on the part of individuals, employers, and the government. In Working Longer, Munnell and Sass explain what each of these groups can and should do to keep the American dream of retirement alive.