Twice as many workers aged 55 or over compared to 1998 – ESRI

Ireland excels at retaining those between 55 and 59 in workforce until they reach 60s

Ireland’s workforce is getting older, according to a new Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) study. Back in 1998, just one in 10 workers was aged 55 or over; by last year that figure had doubled to almost 20 per cent.

People who are self-employed are more likely to work for longer, the report, commissioned by the Health and Safety Authority and to be published on Tuesday, found, while those with a poor work/life balance or in more physically demanding roles are less confident of working beyond the age of 60.

The data pulled together by authors Helen Russell, Ivan Privalko and Bertrand Maitre of the ESRI shows that Ireland is significantly better at retaining older workers than the average across the OECD – 71 per cent, up from 55 per cent in 2012. The retention rate measures the percentage of workers aged between 55 and 59 who remain in the workforce into their 60s.

There is no gender gap, with both men and women working at an older age. The report notes that professionals tend to leave the workforce earlier, a fact it attributes to their access to higher pensions and greater financial security.


Active ageing

The ESRI study comes as the European Union's 2020 strategy looks to encourage active ageing, including increased work participation, both for productivity but also for personal wellbeing and "intergenerational solidarity".

The report’s authors also note that there is also strong pressure to increase employment among older people to help improve the sustainability of the welfare system across the bloc.

Of those who do leave the workforce in their late 50s, the majority cite retirement or “early retirement” as the reason. But one in five blames illness or disability for the decision while a similar number drop out because of redundancy. A smaller number, around 7 per cent, cite family care reasons for the decision.

There were few differences in reasons given by those who leave the workforce early along gender lines – although women were five times more likely than men to cite family care obligations as a reason for stopping work.

Care roles

The report notes that efforts to extend working lives further will not be successful unless there is “some acknowledgment of women’s disproportionate role in providing care”.

“While the retention of workers aged over 60 in Ireland is higher than the OECD average, there is considerable scope to increase participation further,” Dr Privalko said. “However, simply raising the minimum retirement age will not build sustainable jobs. Policies that take account of the variety of push and pull factors leading to early exits from the workplace, including the provision of safe working conditions, is critical to support longer working lives.”

Minister of State Pat Breen urged Irish businesses to embrace the value of older workers. "An ageing workforce isn't a burden, it's an opportunity," he said.

“Experience is a critical asset right now. Businesses are going to struggle if they don’t embrace older workers and make better efforts to retain and retrain them.”

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times