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People over 65 will double by 2050 globally. Working lives will get longer—36 years at office

From Europe to China, longer lives and demographic changes are forcing managers and employees to think differently about retirement ages.

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Whether you love your job—or dream of retirement—most of us want to know how long our working lives will last. The next generation of Europeans are expected to work for an average of 36 years, although there are big differences between countries.

Working lives in Europe have been getting longer since 2001, according to the European Commission’s data service Eurostat. They shortened slightly for the first time in 2020 because of COVID-19, but are now up to their pre-pandemic level.

The average figure of 36 years is based on future workers in the European Union (EU) who were 15 years old in 2021. But some of those teenagers are likely to work much longer.

People in the Netherlands will be hard at it the longest, with an average of 42.5 years of work ahead of them. Workers in Sweden (42.3 years) and Denmark (40.3 years) can also look forward to long careers.

Romanians have the shortest working lives in the EU, with an average of 31.3 years. Italians (31.6 years) and Greeks (32.9 years) are also predicted to spend less time in the workplace.

Gender gap: the difference between men’s and women’s working lives

In most EU countries, men are likely to work for longer than women, with an average of 38.2 years for men and 33.7 years for women. The gender gap is closing though: back in 2001 it was 7 years: the latest data predicts it will be just 4.5 years on average.

Lithuania is the only EU country to reverse the trend, with women working 1.3 years longer than men. The biggest gap is in Italy, where men are predicted to work an average of 9.1 years more than women.

Malta was the country where the difference between men’s and women’s working lives has changed the most: in 2001 women worked 22.3 fewer years than men: that has now reduced to 8.4 years.

But overall, Europeans are likely spend more of their lives in the workplace – and that will be true in other parts of the world too. Changes in demographics are forcing both employers and employees to rethink when it is desirable – or even possible – to retire.

Also read: There’s now a universal right to healthy, sustainable environment. Why it can go a long way

An ageing world population

With people living longer, many will want to stay in work well past conventional retirement age. Others – whose pensions might not stretch to support a longer retirement – could be forced to put in more years.

Europe’s transformation to an ageing society is accelerating as a result of a falling population, according to United Nations figures. That could have a big economic impact.

Charles Goodhart, emeritus professor at the London School of Economics told the Financial Times that in countries with shrinking populations: “unless you get a productivity miracle, overall economic growth will fall”.

China’s population challenge

China is wrestling with big demographic changes too, with the population expected to drop, according to projections from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. As in Europe, the balance between the working age population and the over-65s is going through a massive shift.

While there are now 100 working age people in China to support every 20 elderly people, by the end of this century the same number of workers will have to support as many as 120 elderly Chinese.

Globally, the number of over-65s will double by 2050, a transformation which could see many of us add years to our working lives, as is already happening in most European countries. But the older population will bring changes far beyond the world of work, making it vital that we ditch outdated beliefs and stereotypes about ageing, and prepare to make the most of the opportunities we all hope longer lives will bring.

Simon Read is Senior Writer, Formative Content

Thisarticlepreviously appeared in the World Economic Forum.

Also read: Smoking, alcohol & high BMI among biggest risk factors linked to cancer death, says Lancet study


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