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West Europe - Employment And Retirement

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In recent years, the fate of western Europe’s older workers has been determined not by age but by the dynamics of the labor market. Sharp declines in participation in the labor force among workers age fifty-five to sixty-four occurred during the 1970s and 1980s, with the sharpest reductions found in the Netherlands (to 45 percent) and France (to 43 percent). Interestingly, the exit of older workers from the labor market was more a result of an economic recession that led to a downsizing of the older working population than of changes in pension systems. Sometimes there were attempts to manipulate the welfare systems in order to find creative ways to downsize older employees—for example, by designating disabilities when none existed. Consequently, one observes a sharp and sudden increase in disability status during this period.

In many countries of western Europe the retirement systems have been changed from fixedage retirement to flexible retirement. However, this supposed flexibility did not translate into greater worker control over retirement, but simply mandated earlier retirement ages. Consequently, in western Europe today, outside the more informally organized agricultural sector, work is largely unavailable for men and women after the age of sixty-five. In 1999, the highest employment rates for men age sixty-five to sixty-nine were found in Portugal (32.2 percent) and Ireland (23.7 percent), and for women age sixty-five to sixty-nine the highest employment rates were also in Portugal (18.9 percent). Most of the other countries show much lower employment rates: the lowest rate for men and women in the same age category was found in France (3 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively) (Eurostat Labour Force Survey).

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