A new trend

Up until recently we felt that the workforce appeared to be so young, notably police and firefighters.

They seemed to be just kids, particularly compared to ourselves. Their youth almost embarrassed us. Nowadays, however, it seems that our colleagues everywhere are older than was the case just a few years ago.

Is this a new reality or are perceptions badly flawed?

Those who were in their late 60s accounted for less than 8 per cent three decades previously, but comprise 15% today. With women the increase has climbed from 3% just at the turn of the century to 7% currently. In addition fewer people are taking early retirement, whether voluntary or involuntary; that in part explains the change in profile.

That trend is even more pronounced among British woman. In only three decades the biggest single gain in employment rolls has been women aged 64. The situation is somewhat similar in North America.

A question must be asked if this shift explains the weakness in the trends in the labor market, the slack in wages and poor productivity. The growing ranks of older workers, especially those working part time, puts more pressure on wages.

Are these older workers less efficient than their counterparts? Does productivity decline with age? That certainly is valid for manual workers, but may be less true for others, but probably their relative inefficiency entails hiring more senior workers.

Wages of course generally move along with productivity. However, this is very difficult to determine in this era, as fewer are paid for piece work. Custom, the effectiveness of unions and the productivity of the employers all play a part.

Another element in the wage structure is the availability of outsourcing. If production can be shifted to areas were wages are low such as in Asia or the United States’ southern regions, those remaining may be older, less productive workers.

One area where the growing number of older workers is employed is in the care of the elderly. The number of these people is soaring. Higher wages could attract such workers, but there is a rising shortage of such workers; older workers are willing to fill the ranks of care workers whereas young people are inclined to shun that kind of work. That too affects the average age of workers. More automation may lessen the recruitment of older employees, yet that is a slow-growing trend.

Clearly, there are signs that the average age of workers is rising. That is constructive as there are ever more older people in our society and their employment adds to the economy and reduces the pressure of older people to join the ranks of the unemployed.


Bruce Whitestone