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Elderly German workers just keep on going
Photo: DPA

Elderly German workers just keep on going

Published on: 19 May 2014 12:49 CET

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Germany’s population is getting older fast, but the number of workers over 60 is rapidly outstripping that increase.

Between 1991 and 2012 the number of Germans over 60 in work rose from 1.23 million to 3.18 million - a rise of almost 160 percent. The population of over 60's, meanwhile, rose by 34 percent.

And even those nearing the state retirement age of 65 are working longer. In 2012 there were 826,000 Germans aged 65 and over still working, compared to just 320,000 two decades ago, according to figures from Federal Statistics Office, Destatis.

Dr Ulrich Walwei, vice director of the Institute of Labour Research (IAB), told The Local much of this growth was down to the changing world of work.

“We have people who don’t want to leave their jobs,” he said. “It is hard to tell whether they are working longer out of enjoyment or out of necessity. I believe it’s both. They are happy at work but also need to work longer.”

“The employment market for older workers is also less dynamic,” he said. “It is harder to enter the labour market if you are older, and rare to start a new job.”

Perhaps the biggest cause behind this trend are labour market and pension reforms over the last two decades which have seen benefits cut and retirement ages rise.

However, this could now be reversed by the current coalition government which plans to cut the retirement age to 63 for some groups.

This cut would reverse a trend of the last two decades. In 1997 the retirement age for women was raised from 60 to 65. In 2008 it was decided that the age would be increased to 67 by 2029.

In 2009 government subsidies for partial retirement schemes also ended and in 2004 the unemployment benefit for older workers was reduced from a maximum of 32 months to 18 months.

Walwei examined some of these trends in a 2011 report called “Germany - No Country for Old Workers?”. It found that Germany’s labour force would decrease by 15 percent by 2025 without better integration of older workers and immigration.

More degrees, more work

Walwei also put the rise in older workers down to a better educated population.

“People are becoming more qualified,” Walwei said. “The more academic they are, the more likely they are to be employed when older. With each extra year of study they are likely to work longer.”

His report found 67.5 percent of those aged 60 to 64 with a university degree were in work, compared to 35 percent for unskilled workers in 2007. Therefore, as the number of graduates increases, the number of older people in work will also increase in the long term.

Walwei also put much of the rise down to more women being in work.

“Women have contributed to the lion’s share of the growth,” he said. “The model of the male bread-winner is going. More women work and they also work longer.”

Whatever the causes, Germany must get used to older workers, as the trend is set to continue with the next generation nearing retirement age. Between 1998 and 2010 the number of people in work aged 50 and over more than tripled from 2.1 million to 7.3 million. 

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