Ottawa, ON — Older workers are staying in the workforce longer and, as a result, may be dampening the threat of a sudden and severe labour shortage as baby boomers retire, a new study by Statistics Canada suggests.
An estimated 2.1 million individuals aged 55 to 64 were either employed or looking for work in 2006, more than double the total in 1976, according to the study “Participation of older workers,” published in Perspectives on Labour and Income.
They represented 12% of the total labour force in 2006, compared with 10% three decades earlier.
The two main forces behind these increases are an aging population and rising labour force participation rates among older workers.
In 2006, these older workers represented 14% of the total population, up from 11% in 1976. At the same time, the overall labour force participation rate for this group increased from 53% to 59%.
The study examined labour market trends among the population aged 55 to 64 between 1976 and 2006, using data from the Labour Force Survey.
Data showed that the majority of individuals in their late 50s were still working last year. Among men aged 55 to 59, three-quarters (76%) either had a job or were looking for one. This rate was below the 1976 high of 84%, but above the 1998 low of 71%.
Not surprisingly, a smaller proportion of people aged 60 to 64 were participating in the labour force, but both men and women have made recent gains. Last year, 53% of men in this age group were participating in the workforce, compared with 43% in 1995. A record 37% of women in this age group were doing so as well.
The study suggests that the labour force participation among this age group will continue to rise because of three factors: a strong attachment to the labour market among baby boomers; rising levels of education, particularly among women; and an apparent desire among people over 55 to continue working, either from interest, financial concern, or other factors, such as the virtual elimination of mandatory retirement at age 65.
In terms of employment, just over 2 million people aged 55 to 64 had a job in 2006, producing an employment rate of 56%. Most jobs were in the services sector, and the vast majority of employment was full time.
In Alberta, 68% of older workers aged 55 to 64 had a job in 2006, the highest provincial employment rate. Because of the oil boom, the province has experienced labour shortages and is attracting workers of all ages. Saskatchewan and Manitoba also had employment rates of over 60% for this age group.
The study noted a shift toward non-standard work arrangements among older workers, such as self-employment, suggesting that some are making a conscious transition towards retirement.
The study also noted that older employees tend to be absent from their job because of illness or disability more often than their core-age counterparts. In 2006, workers aged 55 to 59 working full time lost just over 10 days for this reason, while their core-age counterparts lost only 7 days. Those aged 60 to 64 lost just over 12 days.
The article “Participation of older workers” is now available in the August 2007 online edition of Perspectives on Labour and Income, Vol. 8, no. 8 (75-001-XWE, free), from the Publications module at www.statcan.ca.