Universal retirement at a set age is a relatively modern concept. In 1900, 54% of French and 58% of Germans over 65 were working, according data presented by Dr. Marco Salvi of the Swiss think tank Avenir Suisse.
In some countries, such as the US, Japan and Iceland, there were relatively high numbers of older workers until quite recently. In 1960, 29% of Americans over this age were working. In 1968, 34% of over 65s in Japan were in work. And, as recently as 1993, 48% of older Icelanders were gainfully occupied.
After an almost universal decline across the OECD, the number of older workers is now on the rise in most countries. Across the OECD, the low point of 8% occurred in 1994. By 2016 the percentage of over 65s working was back up to over 14%.
In 2016, the percentage over this age working in Switzerland was 12%, not far below the OECD average.
However, the Swiss percentage stands in stark contrast to some developed nations. In 2016, rates in Iceland (41%), Korea (32%), New Zealand (23%), Japan (23%), the United States (19%) and Norway (19%) were all far higher.
Part of the reason could be Switzerland’s late start. The labour force participation rate in Switzerland for this group hit its low point of 7% in 2005, 11 years after the OECD turning point.
At the same time, some european countries haven’t even started the process. Italy (4%), France (3%), Spain (2%), Belgium (2%) and Greece (2%) have few over 65s in the workforce and have rates that haven’t budged for 30 years.
As the percentage of people over 65 climbs pressure for change will mount. Europe might start to look for ideas in Iceland1, Korea or Japan, or in its own history.
OECD data on labour force participation (in English)
Why we will all work longer – Avenir Suisse article (in English)
1 Iceland has flexible retirement rules. When those over 67 were asked why they continue working, 39% said it was to improve their income, 30% because they liked their job and 31% for other reasons, such as they didn’t know what to do or wanting to remain active – see study.