Many bus companies in Norway employ older drivers. Researchers at the Centre for Senior Policy (SSP) surveyed the bus industry. They found that both managers and drivers think this profession is a good fit for mature adults. (Photo: Colourbox)
Many bus companies in Norway employ older drivers. Researchers at the Centre for Senior Policy (SSP) surveyed the bus industry. They found that both managers and drivers think this profession is a good fit for mature adults. (Photo: Colourbox)

Who chooses to work past age 67?

Not only people with higher education choose to work longer. A recent research project on seniors in working life reveals several surprising findings.

Publisert

People with higher education have the best health. They live longer than those with less education. They also get less tired at work and are sick less often.

Statistics Norway and other studies have thoroughly documented this several times.

So researchers at the University of Oslo thought that this more highly educated group would also last the longest in working life.

But contrary to what they believed at the start of project Exit Age, the new data showed a different picture.

Researchers at OsloMet presented preliminary findings from a research project that examined what characterizes elders who still work. From the left: Per Erik Solem, Robert Salomon, Katharina Herlofson and Tale Hellevik. (Photo: Siw Ellen Jakobsen)
Researchers at OsloMet presented preliminary findings from a research project that examined what characterizes elders who still work. From the left: Per Erik Solem, Robert Salomon, Katharina Herlofson and Tale Hellevik. (Photo: Siw Ellen Jakobsen)

Researcher Tale Hellevik presented preliminary findings from the research during the Centre for Senior Policy's 50th anniversary event in Oslo last week.

One in five works past 67th birthday

Some people retire and hop a plane south. Some move into their country cottage. Still others devote their retirement years to their children and grandchildren.

The Exit Age researchers wanted to know who chooses to keep on working instead.

Tale Hellevik and her colleagues surveyed individuals between the ages of 67 and 75 who had had income-generating work the week before the researchers interviewed them.

Among the 67-year-olds, 27 per cent were earning money. Among the 70-year-olds it was 21 per cent.

Desire to work is high

Two-thirds of individuals who work after their 67th birthday are men.

Almost everyone takes their full retirement pension while they are still working. Few people continue to work for economic reasons.

Over a third of those surveyed work more than 30 hours a week.

Internal motivation seems to play an important role. People who experience work as very important earlier in life often still have a great desire to work when they’re older,” says Hellevik.

She relied on a large study on aging (NorLAG) that has been following several thousand people over a long time. The study started in 2002 and collected its third round of data in 2017. More than 6000 women and men between 50 and 95 years old participated in the last round.

The data provide the researchers with a unique opportunity to follow the same people over time.

Education of little importance

To the researchers' great surprise, people’s level of education has little effect on whether or not they continue to work.

“One-third of the oldest workers have university or college education and two thirds have less education, the same distribution as in the population generally. Most people with higher education are in academic professions,” says Hellevik.

Those with less education have many different professions. Most are in the sales and service industries. But many are process and machine operators, transport workers, farmers, fishermen and craftspeople.

Older workers are more often self-employed and tend to work less in the public sector than the rest of the working population does.

Another characteristic of older workers is that their desire to work is as strong now – or stronger than – ten years earlier.

“We haven’t known much about this age group,” says Katharina Herlofson, who heads the research project.

Norwegian and international research has mainly concentrated on people in their 50s through age 65, which is the usual retirement age in many countries.

Many people want to work longer

The researchers compared information from 2007 and 2017. Individuals who are still working after age 67 years in 2017, worked far more ten years earlier than their retired peers did.

When researchers ask people in the current workforce when they want to retire, they are finding that the average response is age 66, almost five years older than 15 years ago.

A growing number of people want to work past age 70. Since the Norwegian pension reform in 2011, the proportion of older adults wanting to work until they are at least 70 years old has increased from 19 per cent to 29 per cent.

A lot of people want to continue working. But far fewer actually do.

The researchers set out to find out why. They visited 19 companies around Norway that have employees over the age of 67, and interviewed union representatives and managers.

Legislation supposed to make it easier

A 2015 change in the Norwegian Working Environment Act In 2015 raised the age for when an employer may terminate an employee from 70 to 72 years. The new rule was supposed to make it easier for people to work beyond their 70th birthday.

However, the rule has some exceptions. Companies can choose to set the age limit at 70 years instead of 72 years, for example for reasons of health and risk in the workplace. The exemption limit was raised from 67 to 70 years in 2015.

The researchers asked business leaders how they relate to their oldest employees and to the new age limits.

Fewer opportunities now?

Six hundred leaders participated in a survey conducted the year after the age change in 2015.

The researchers found that 21 per cent of the companies had their own age limit before the change in the Working Environment Act. After the change, 27 per cent had such a limit. Another 5 per cent were considering introducing it or had already decided on it.

The result may indicate that some managers are not that happy with the new increased age limit.

“If raising the age limit to 72 means that companies are choosing to introduce an internal limit, then the change is to some extent working against its intended purpose. Older workers may actually have fewer opportunities now rather than more, which was the goal of the change,” said Herlofson.

Praise for older workers

Why have so many businesses implemented an internal corporate limit of 70 years? Is it really such a big problem to employ workers who want to work until they’re 72?

The researchers asked the business leaders to describe the effort and output of the older workers. They heard almost exclusively praise.

Older workers are rarely absent. They have good professional knowledge. Strong loyalty. High accountability. They are very dedicated and committed to their job.

But business leaders also responded that older employees often get tired – tired of performing the same tasks for many years, of constant reorganization, increased demands and more stress.

That’s according to the business leaders.

But when the researchers asked the oldest working people themselves, nothing indicated that they are more tired than when they were in their 50s and 60s.

On the contrary.

The proportion of working people who feel full of energy increases with age. Several of those who are 67 and older state that they never get tired on the job like younger workers do.

Several other international studies have shown the same trend, Herlofson reported during the conference in Oslo.

To sum up, we can say that the more older people you can find in a workplace, the fewer workers are walking around yawning at work.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no