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Global Aging and Aging Workers

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter outlines the nature and causes of demographic (population) aging. Diversity is a global feature, with countries and regions worldwide at rather different stages in terms of percentages of older persons. Falling and sometimes very low fertility has generally caused the demographic aging of populations, although greater life expectancy also plays a part. The chapter outlines effective age of retirement and labor force participation of older workers and the key aspects of the 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing. Selected issues arising from aging workforces are examined: older workers’ skills; unemployment and underemployment; mental and physical changes; and age bias and workplace discrimination. The future implications of the interplay between population aging on economic growth are introduced.

Keywords: demographic aging, older workers, employment, unemployment, labor force, discrimination

Global Population Aging: the Demographic and Policy Context

The Global Process of Aging

The world’s population has been aging for centuries, but what is new over the past few decades is the rapidity of aging. In mid-2011, the global population aged 65 and over was estimated as 546 million people, some 7.9% of the total, an increase of over 13 million since 2010 and almost 120 million more older people than a decade before. Projections to the year 2050 indicate that the world’s older population will then be over a thousand million greater than in 2011, a total of almost 1,600 million or some 17% of the total projected population of around 9,700 million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011).

Demographic aging, as it is usually called, leading to this growth of older populations, started with the developed, industrialized countries, but today it has touched almost every nation on earth. The global patterns are established but vary. The countries classed as “developed nations” are generally demographically the oldest, but they are also mostly plateauing in terms of percentages and numbers of people defined as old. These countries are principally in Europe but also include Japan in East Asia. Many developed nations are already experiencing actual or potential labor shortages because they have for some years had roughly as many children under 15 years of age as people aged 55 and older, and many have a relatively shrinking working-age population (at least based on conventional estimates of retirement ages). By contrast, most people still think of the developing world as having a high proportion of children, relatively low proportions of older people, and an abundant labor force. However, this image is not wholly accurate, and middle-income countries, in particular, are often those that are aging most rapidly in the 21st century (Kinsella & Phillips, 2005; Kinsella & He, 2009).

(p. 12) Global and Regional Patterns of Aging

Diversity is a key feature within the trend of demographic aging, and countries and regions worldwide are at rather different stages relative to percentages over 60 or 65 (Tables 2.1 and 2.2, Figs. 2.1 and 2.2). As the U.S. Census Bureau’s report An Aging World 2008 (Kinsella & He, 2009) notes, the current growth of older populations is relatively steady in some countries but “explosive” in others. As the post-World War II “Baby Boom” cohorts in many countries reach older age after 2010, there will be a jump in the populations aged 65-plus. While aging to date had been primarily a developed-nation phenomenon, researchers, policymakers, and the general public are appreciating that many erstwhile developing economies also have rapidly increasing proportions of older persons. Indeed, the majority—over 60%—of people aged 65-plus now live in developing nations (Kinsella & He, 2009). Moreover, given the very large populations in many such countries, the absolute numbers of older persons in developing nations are often enormous. China, for example, already in 2010 has more people aged 65-plus than all the major countries of Western Europe combined.

Perhaps the most notable feature of Table 2.1 and the two maps (Figs 2.1, 2.2) is the international differentiation in demographic aging between the world’s currently oldest countries—Italy and Japan, for example—and youthful nations such as Ghana, Brazil, and Bolivia. The last-named countries even have smaller percentages of their populations aged 65-plus than the developed countries have in their 80-plus group (the “oldest old”). Looking ahead, by 2025, some of these nations, such as China and Brazil, will have already almost caught up, while others will remain youthful. The demographic differentiation therefore increases. However, by 2040–2050, many of the currently youngest countries will have at least 10% of their populations aged 65-plus. China, in particular, assuming the continuation of its strong population policies such as the One-child policy, which has been relaxed in some cities, will have a quarter of its population aged 65-plus and over 8% aged 80-plus. The numbers of older people in its very large population will be immense. By then, Japan, Italy, and several other countries worldwide will have over one third of their populations aged 65 and older.

The Growth of Older-Old Populations

 Global Aging and Aging WorkersClick to view larger

Fig. 2.1. Percentages aged 65-plus, 2008. Source: Kinsella and He (2009, pp. 4–5). Available online at:

Older people worldwide are likely to be a growing proportion of all regions and almost every country’s total population, with a few exceptions, at least for the foreseeable future (Table 2.2). A particularly (p. 13) important feature is the growth of the “oldest old” segment, variously defined as people aged over 80 or 85 years (Kelly, 2008; National Institute on Aging, 2007). It is estimated that the oldest old (aged 80-plus in this case) represented 19% of the world’s older population in 2008, ranging from 26% in developed countries to 15% in developing countries. However, over half the world’s oldest old people in 2008 lived in just six countries: China, the United States, India, Japan, Germany, and Russia (Kinsella & He, 2009).

Table 2.1 Percentage of population aged 65-plus and 80-plus in selected countries in 2009, 2025, and 2050 (both sexes)

Developed Countries






































United States







Developing Countries




































Source: U.S. Census Bureau, International Data Base (2009).

 Global Aging and Aging WorkersClick to view larger

Fig. 2.2. Percentages aged 65-plus, 2040. Source: Kinsella and He (2009, pp. 4–5). Available online at:

For many reasons, the oldest old are recognized as a key group. Not only are these cohorts representing increasing percentages in populations, but it is assumed this group will on average have the highest levels of disability, especially dementias, and its members may require disproportionate amounts of social care and long-term care and may also consume healthcare resources disproportionately. Whether or not this is the case, policymakers are certainly becoming sensitized to their potential needs. The oldest old as a group also hold some interesting implications for workforces, as the oldest citizens offer new areas of employment in caring and service provision. Furthermore, some younger people may remain outside of the workforce if (p. 14) they decide to look after an elderly relative for a prolonged period.

Table 2.2 Global regional aging, 65-plus and 80-plus





65+ 80+

65+ 80+

65+ 80+

Less-developed countries

5.8 0.9

8.7 1.5

15.3 4.2

More-developed countries

16.0 4.2

21.1 5.6

26.1 9.6

Sub-Saharan Africa

3.0 0.3

3.4 0.5

5.3 0.9

Northern Africa

5.1 0.7

8.0 1.3

17.0 4.0

Near East

4.3 0.7

6.2 1.0

12.4 2.8

Asia (excluding Near East)

6.9 1.1

10.7 2.0

19.1 5.6

Latin America and the Caribbean

6.6 1.3

10.0 2.0

17.8 5.1

Western Europe

18.0 5.0

22.6 6.7

28.8 11.5

Eastern Europe

14.4 3.3

20.7 4.7

30.4 9.6

Northern America

13.1 3.8

18.3 4.4

20.7 7.7


11.0 2.9

14.9 3.7

19.2 6.5

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, International Data Base (2009).

It is fairly certain that the growth of the oldest-old cohorts has enormous consequences for the future of aging and workforces. Today, the oldest old form the fastest-growing portion of the total population in many countries. Worldwide, based on U.S. Census Bureau data, the population aged 85-plus is projected to increase by some 300% between 2009 and 2040, compared with 160% for the population aged 65 and over and only around 30% for the total population of all ages. In Japan, NAI (2007) notes that 24% of the older population will be aged 85-plus by 2030. However, in some countries, such as the United States, the oldest old will not grow significantly by this date, as the Baby Boomers will be entering the 65-plus group. Clearly, however, towards the middle of the century, very large numbers will enter the oldest-old cohorts.

This major demographic feature related to increasing longevity can render obsolete many current ages of retirement and, indeed, can nullify the very concept of total retirement. An associated feature is the increasing feminization of older populations, especially among the oldest old, where females will often represent well over half and as many as two-thirds. It seems likely that, among the older cohorts longer term, females will continue to outnumber males (e.g., in 2050), but, among younger groups, as more boys are apparently being born in many major countries (such as China and India) and male–female differentials in survival rates may decrease, gender differences in numbers of older people may narrow. Nevertheless, in both developed and developing countries, older women will continue to outnumber men (Bloom, Canning, & Fink, 2008).

Causes of Demographic Aging

It is important to consider briefly why such enormous demographic changes have come about. Why have most populations aged? It is generally thought that people are living longer, and hence there are more older persons. This is certainly true as, in almost every country and, with some notable short-term exceptions, expectation of life at birth (ELB) and expectation of life at middle age are increasing. However, living longer is only part of the explanation, but increases in longevity have been a rather general, slowly progressive factor in population structure change (Kinsella & Phillips, 2005; Sanderson & Scherbov, 2008). As Sanderson & Scherbov (2008) note, the history of life expectancy (p. 15) since 1950 has been such that most countries that have had low expectancies are catching up with those with longer expectancies. Sadly, also, life expectancy in some places (for example, parts of Russia and Zimbabwe), has fallen behind, perhaps temporarily, because of sociopolitical turmoil, social problems, and a high incidence of certain diseases.

However, the key demographic driver of aging has usually been falling fertility rates, albeit in combination with increasing life expectancy. A decline in the number of babies born per woman (the total fertility rate [TFR]) affects the age structure of a population. It means fewer young people and proportionally more people at older ages. Also, this often has crucial implications for regional and national workforces, as younger populations can migrate for work and family reasons and certain districts, regions, and even nations have thereby had their population pyramids further skewed towards older age by the loss of younger people through out-migration.

Why has lower fertility become almost a modern norm, especially in the industrialized and developed countries? The social and economic causes of declining fertility almost everywhere involve a combination of better child survival, better education (especially of mothers), modern job opportunities, and, generally, an almost invariable social acceptance of and trend towards smaller families. In some places, the decrease has been from ten children to, say, five; in others, such as in much of Europe and many Asia Pacific countries, the decrease has been from three or four children to one or often at most two per family. An important although unusual example is in the People’s Republic of China, where there has been a 30-year history of a one-child policy, strictly enforced for the most part although relaxed slightly in some cities in 2009. This policy has had huge social consequences, such as population imbalance (more baby boys than girls being born), demographic ageing, and medium-term labor force shortage implications. There has also been great internal-to-China and international debate about the enforcement of the policy, and because of fears of the socioeconomic consequences of urban aging in particular, some large Chinese cities such as Shanghai in 2009 announced the formal implementation of a two-child policy.

The sustained decrease in TFRs in industrialized nations through most of the 20th century has resulted in current levels below the population replacement rate of 2.1 live births per woman in almost all such nations (Kinsella & He, 2009; Kinsella & Phillips, 2005). The United States, for example, has a TFR of around 2.0, but it varies greatly geographically and among the sub-populations of the nation. More recently, mainly since the 1970s, low to extremely low fertility has spread to middle-income nations, especially in East and Southeast Asia. Persistent low fertility has led to smaller successive birth cohorts and a corresponding increase in the proportion of older relative to younger populations. Fertility change in the poorer developing world has been more recent and sometimes even more rapid, with most regions having achieved major reductions in fertility rates over the past 25 years. Although the aggregate TFR remains in excess of 4.5 children per woman in Africa as a whole and in many countries of the Near East, overall levels in Asia and Latin America–Caribbean decreased by about 50% (from 6 to 3 children per woman) during the period 1965 to 1995. Total fertility in many developing countries is now nearing or below replacement level (Kinsella & Phillips, 2005).

These regional patterns have considerable long-term implications for labor force availability and structures, especially with social trends towards families seeking better education for fewer children, and concomitant possible labor shortages in unskilled and semiskilled occupations. Moreover, some countries are experiencing, or about to experience, an historically unprecedented demographic phenomenon of simultaneous population aging and overall population decline. As Kinsella & He (2009, p. 23) note, “European demographers have sounded warning bells for at least the last 35 years about the possibility of declining population size in industrialized nations, but this idea did not permeate public discourse until recently.”

Defining Old Age: Shifting Patterns of Work and Retirement

One issue increasingly relevant to the world of work is the definition of old age and the associated age of retirement or withdrawal from work. As The Economist (2009) notes, even a few decades ago, nobody imagined retirement would stretch to over a quarter of a century, so this requires a reassessment of retirement ages and benefits. However, comparative research on mature or older workers is hampered because there is little consensus in the research literature about the definition. Some studies include people as young as 40 or 45, others take the ages of 50 or 55 as their reference point, whereas others use (p. 16) the retirement and pre-retirement ages of 60 or 65. Forty-five and over has been the age group used by the United Nations and World Health Organization to encompass older workers. The Australian Bureau of Statistics, for example, classifies people aged 45 and over as “older jobseekers” (Spoehr, Barnett, & Parnis, 2009). A similar issue prevails with respect to definitions of old age: in many parts of the world, old age has tended to be defined as starting as low as 55 or 60, but it is increasingly being redefined as 65 years or higher, and legally so in many Western nations. Some countries such as Canada and the United States have effectively removed an age criterion from the definition of retirement, and while in other countries it may remain, it tends to have greater importance as a criterion for access to retirement and old-age benefits. Some countries have lower defined retirement ages (China, for example, between 55 and 60). This has important implications for future labor force proportions, so many countries are gradually raising their official retirement ages. In some poorer countries, however, where life expectancy is still lower, old age may be popularly believed to start in the mid-40s (the average ELB for Western, Eastern and Middle African countries, for example, remains between 48 and 53 years).

In most richer countries, and increasingly in middle-income countries, “middle age” has moved upwards in years. No longer do standard age-related “old age” cutoffs such as 60 or 65 apply across the board, yet these are very commonly used in national and international definitions of elderly population. With ELB extending in many developed and middle-income countries beyond 75 to 80 years and with many people surviving well past 80, middle age now increasingly refers to people in their late 50s and early 60s. This has important demographic and especially psychological implications for many people who do not define themselves as “old,” and who may not wish to retire and want to continue working full- or part-time or to remain productive, contributing to societies and economies, in spite of barriers in many places. In view of data presented below about future scarcity of jobs globally and the excess of younger workforces from low-income countries and elsewhere, it is tempting to foresee a future intergenerational clash between younger and older jobseekers.

Labor Force Participation and Average Effective Age of Retirement

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2006) suggests that an important indicator of retirement behavior is the average effective age at which older workers withdraw from the labor force, which they term “effective age of retirement.” In terms of the impact of demographic aging, this is an important factor. In many countries, the effective age of retirement is below the official age for receiving a full old-age pension (Fig. 2.3). Some East Asian OECD countries such as Japan and Korea are exceptions, with their effective age of retirement at almost 70 for men despite an official retirement age of 60. Elsewhere, men on average remain in the workforce to age 65, as in Iceland, Ireland, Portugal, and Switzerland, but many have left work by about age 60 in Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, and the Slovak Republic. Women, in general, retire about 1 to 2 years earlier than men. It appears that, in all OECD countries, the effective retirement age has declined since 1970, although the trend has changed in the decade since 2000, when most countries have experienced either a flattening of the decline or even a small upturn in age of retirement. Nevertheless, with the exception of Japan and Korea, the effective retirement age remains well below the levels of the 1960s and 1970s (OECD, 2009).

Although most populations are aging, so too are overall workforces graying, a factor that has generated renewed interest in older workers and especially in some countries in labor force participation rates (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs [UNDESA], 2007; Taylor, 2010). As UNDESA suggest, older people should ideally be able to continue working for as long as they wish and are able to be productive. This may require legislation changes and almost certainly some measures to counter negative stereotypes of older workers. Ideally, where there are statutory retirement ages, there should be options for both employers and employees to continue using older people’s participation in paid work wherever practical. However, as noted below, some trends such as economic downturns and, longer term, increased competition from younger workers and especially from poor countries, may militate against older workers, who can still be stigmatized as less productive. It is also likely that older workers, especially in poorer countries, may be employed in what the International Labor Organization (ILO) (2009) terms “vulnerable employment,” although the proportions vary greatly from country to country due to differences in work patterns and retirement benefits. Vulnerable employment involves people who are working on their own (p. 17) account, informally just for themselves, and their contributing family members. Many workers in such vulnerable employment status, particularly in developing economies but also in developed economies, do not benefit from a social safety net if they lose their livelihoods or have problems such as illness. Vulnerable employment could rise considerably and may involve around 50% of the global workforce around 2009. It is generally especially high in poorer developing countries and could of course involve many older persons. Moreover, as discussed later, older workers tend to face more unemployment and take much longer to find jobs than younger workers.

Labor Force Participation of Older Workers

 Global Aging and Aging WorkersClick to view larger

Fig. 2.3. OECD average effective age of retirement versus the official age, men and women 2002–2007.

 Global Aging and Aging WorkersClick to view larger

Fig. 2.4. Labor force participation rates, OECD, men aged 55 to 64, 1994 and 2007. (Based on data from OECD 2008 Employment Outlook Statistical Annex, Table C)

Labor force participation rates (LFPRs) generally rise sharply after teenage years and then decline gradually after about the age of 50. As noted above, although definitions are fluid, UNDESA suggests workers aged 55 to 64 are usually considered as “older workers.” On this basis, globally, older workers’ participation rates are considerably below those in (p. 18) their prime working years, 25 to 54 (UNDESA, 2007). At the regional level, UNDESA notes the decline among female workers in the labor force is greater among all age groups in all regions, especially in the 55-to-64 age group. Economies in transition appear to suffer the greatest declines in labor force participation from prime years to older years and then to 65-plus among men and women. In other regions, male LFPRs decline from a peak of around 87% to 96% to 63% to 86% at 44 to 64 and 13% to 57% at 65-plus. Developed countries stand out as having high male LFPRs at younger ages, 92%, which decline markedly to only 13% at 65-plus, presumably because of the fairly widespread availability of pensions and retirement support after this age. The African region, by contrast, has a continuingly high LFPR of 57% among men even at age 65-plus; only Oceania comes close to this, at 51%. The reasons are complex, but the lack of widespread retirement protection in these regions and the need for continuing work by older people largely explain these differences. Other poorer and middle-income regions, such as the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia, may have lower retirement ages in spite of lengthening life expectancy, especially among women.

At the national level, OECD (2008) data for their 30 countries indicate a mixed picture in the LFPR for older men (aged 55 to 64) over the 13 years to 2007, although in most countries it seems that more older men are generally participating in work in larger numbers than in 1994 (Fig. 2.4). In some countries, such as Belgium, France, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and Austria, the LFPR among the older male group is increasing from a rather low base and is still only 40% to 50%. In other countries, the rate is much higher (e.g., Norway, Sweden, Mexico, New Zealand, Japan, and Iceland have rates of 70% to 80%). Clearly, these sorts of figures have very different implications for employment, income, and contributions to the economy in demographically aging countries, assuming such trends are maintained.

Looking forward, in the United States, for example, labor force projections forecast that the percentage of people in the workplace aged 55 and above will continue to rise from 27.1% in 1990 to 39.1% by 2020, an increase of some 12 percentage points (Williams & Nussbaum, 2001). This is important as, in the United States, the number of workers aged over 55 is projected to grow at nearly four times the rate of the overall labor force (Alley & Crimmins, 2007). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the Baby Boom generation (people born from 1946 to 1964) makes up about one third of the U.S. workforce, the highest number of workers in this age group since 1970. AARP reports that many do not plan to retire anytime soon and that 79% of Baby Boomers do not plan to stop working at age 65. Total employment was projected to increase by 14% between 1998 and 2008, and the labor force aged 45 to 64 was projected to grow faster than any other age group, as the Baby Boomers age (Sterns, Begovic, & Sotnak, 2003). During this decade, the participation rate of workers ages 55 and older was expected to increase by 47.8%, from 17 million to 25 million workers (Sterns et al., 2003). Recent evidence shows that older Americans are far more likely to keep working than in the past, though they tend to be unemployed for longer (p. 19) than younger workers during economic recession (Reinhard, 2009).

Trends are similar in some other developed countries. For example, 41% of the Canadian working population is expected to be between 45 and 64 by the year 2021 (Lende, 2005), and across the European Union as a whole, the proportion of workers over 50 is expected to rise nearly 25% over the next 15 years—“Turning boomers into boomerangs,” as The Economist (2006) suggested. In several major European countries, early exit from work and taking early retirement were popular at least up to around 2000, but LFPRs for men and women aged 60-64 often start to track up somewhat thereafter, though LFPRs can tend to underestimate the trend of early exit from work (Künemund & Kolland, 2007). In the United Kingdom, 30% of workers are over 50 (Dixon, 2003). Given this expected increase in the number and percentages of older employees in the near future, it is not surprising that increasing attention is devoted to the current situation of older workers in organizations (Peeters & van Emmerik, 2008).

Population Aging and Economic Growth

Following on from this discussion, it is clear that many frequently expressed concerns about demographic aging reflect its assumed impacts on economic growth and development. This is a complex issue, going beyond LFPRs and encompassing productivity, consumer demands, spending patterns, and propensity to consume, as well as definitions of “retirement”. For example, aging populations are often widely assumed to have fewer consumer demands than younger populations, with the implicit assumption that older populations will become a drag on economies because of higher dependency (elderly support) ratios and assumed lower propensity to consume. Moreover, aging populations are sometimes portrayed as less dynamic, less innovative, and less productive than younger profile populations, stereotyping sometimes associated with a “moral panic” approach to older populations. This approach stresses the costs, especially financial costs, and risks rather than benefits of population aging.

These propositions have been rarely tested empirically, and social policy experts note a “moral panic” scenario may be expounded by some economists and politicians, sometimes fueled by media speculation, about the supposed high costs and the burden of aging populations. Yet what are the facts? Recent research in the United States has suggested that things are not as dire as many predict. Whereas LFPRs may decline in some countries from the present looking forward to 2040, because of changes in age distributions, labor force to population ratios may actually increase. This will be because the reduced birth rates noted earlier will reduce the youth dependency component of dependency ratios sufficiently to counterbalance the increased old age dependency component. Increased female LFPRs, enabled partly because of fertility declines, may well also occur. As Bloom, Canning, and Fink (2008) note, these factors suggest continued economic growth even in the face of demographic aging. Other socioeconomic changes will have additional benefits economically. For example, women almost everywhere will be better educated and more eager to enter the labor force, and, as reflected in some LFPR data above, it seems retirement is being deferred by many older people who wish to remain productive in some way for longer.

Bloom et al. (2008) use a life-cycle perspective to investigate the interaction of aging and economic growth, based on the premise that people’s economic needs and contributions vary over the life cycle. On average, a country with more older and/or younger people will tend to have a lower labor supply and lower savings rates than one with a higher proportion of working-age population. However, we can then take account of behavioral change, which can take the form of higher savings for retirement, greater labor force participation, and/or increased in-migration of workers, primarily from less-developed countries to better-off countries. If nations are in a position to take advantage of these behavioral changes, they will be able to mitigate the potentially deleterious economic impacts of demographic aging. Individuals faced with living longer and needing to finance life into their eighth or ninth decades can either rely on social security payments—with the concomitant concerns this will cause to governments—or save more and work longer to finance consumption needs in older years. However, because of the difficulty of working beyond retirement age in many countries, people often choose the option of saving more to spend later. A further option is increased labor force participation, mentioned above, with reduced fertility enabling more women to work. Bloom et al. (2008) also note that the concept of “old age dependency” is something of a misnomer. In many societies, developed and pre-industrial, elderly households make significant transfers in cash and kind (e.g., through transfer of property) to middle-aged and (p. 20) younger households. They are hardly acting in an economically dependent manner.

An Employment Gap?

Another way of looking at demographic aging and employment changes is via any potential “employment gap”: the difference between a lower proportion of economically active people who have to meet the same demand for goods and services as when there were more people of working age. In Europe, for example, research using Eurostat population projections suggests the working age population (aged 15 to 64) will drop from 305 million in 2005 to 255 million in 2050, while the population aged 65-plus will rise from 77 million to 135 million (Berkhout, 2008). The total population will remain fairly constant, but the share of working-age population will fall from 67.2% to 56.7%. Moreover, the share of the oldest old (80-plus) will increase in particular, more than doubling. There will therefore be a potential shortfall of economically active population, and Berkhout discusses the possibility of in-migration acting to rebalance Europe’s employment needs, opening the debate on migration plans and policy. The employment gap will probably differ in detail from country to country but will be felt across the EU as a whole. In Europe, there will also be a likely short-term employment gap, as the initial post-war birth cohorts are already leaving the labor market and many people currently like to retire as early as possible. The same sorts of near-term labor shortages are also being faced in a number of other countries at the moment, notably Japan.

Migration, internal and international, is therefore becoming an increasingly crucial concern in domestic and international debates on aging and is the topic of the 2009 Human Development Report (UN Development Programme [UNDP], 2009). This report notes that the global distribution of capabilities is extraordinarily unequal, forming a major driver for movement of people, especially skills and labor. Movements can be enhanced or obstructed by regional and national policies, such as between the EU and neighboring states, and between the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Migration can expand the choices of individuals relative to incomes, accessing services, and participation. However, potential to migrate is unequal and the opportunities available vary greatly according to those who have the energy and skills to move and who are wanted by the host nations or regions. Clearly, older workers could lose out seriously in a migration competition. Indeed, some countries formally discriminate against older migrants and workers, even if they have relevant and needed skills. Australia, for example, in 2011 allocated nil points to people aged over 45 and did not accept skilled migration applications from individuals aged over 50, both of which many would feel are unacceptably low cutoff ages.

Recent research implies that, in spite of aging populations in many countries, there will nevertheless be severe competition for jobs in the future. By implication, again, older workers may lose out in the global challenge of creating productive jobs for the world’s expanding labor force. The impact of economic recession can exacerbate this, which implies older workers may be losers especially in tough economic times and in a globalized workplace. ILO research notes the global challenge of employment and the inadequate availability of productive jobs, with global forces such as cross-border flows of trade, capital, and labor affecting employment in individual countries. The demand for productive employment will be especially acute in less-developed countries, where the bulk of the world’s workers live and where almost all of its new workers will live. Seventy-three percent of the world’s 3.1 billion workers live in developing countries but only 14% in advanced industrial countries, with the remainder in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, oil-rich countries, and a few others. Around 46 million new workers will join the global labor force each year in the future, the majority in developing countries. However, although the world’s labor force is concentrated in developing countries, capital and skills are generally concentrated in advanced industrial countries. The global employment situation reflects this huge asymmetry in the distribution of the world’s productive resources (Ghose, Majid, & Ernst, 2008). Given that these developing countries still have very large proportions in the younger population age groups, the competition for jobs may seriously disadvantage middle-aged and older workers.

Global Aging and the Perspective of International Organizations

The social, economic, and political issues surrounding global aging have been at the forefront of not only much national research but also much policy interest by international organizations. These include UN organizations such as the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) (p. 21) FPA, ILO, and UNDESA as well as the UN’s own global program on aging. There has also been intense interest from specialized international NGO groups such as HelpAge International. A major result of the combined efforts of many of these and other organizations came from the Second World Assembly on Aging held in Madrid in 2002. The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) has influenced the policy development of almost every nation in the world, and it has been subject to a number of regional and local reviews. This has been followed up by major publications such as UNDESA’s (2007) World Economic Survey 2007: Development in an Ageing World and by UNDESA’s (2008) Regional Dimensions of the Ageing Situation.

These reports and analyses are too detailed to review here, but several aspects of the MIPAA are of direct relevance to aging and older workers. These are embedded in three “priority areas”—priority I, older persons and development; priority II, advancing health and well-being into old age; and priority III, ensuring enabling and supportive environments.

These three priority areas (‘directions’) all have clear relevance for older workers. Priority Direction I, in particular, specifically identifies as its first issue active participation in society, and development of older persons and the recognition of the social, cultural, economic, and political contributions of older persons. A second issue is entitled “Work and the ageing labour force.” Objective 1 is “Employment opportunities for all older persons who want to work.” It starts with a statement:

Older persons should be enabled to continue with income-generating work for as long as they want and for as long as they are able to do so productively. Unemployment, underemployment and labour market rigidities often prevent this, thus restricting opportunities for individuals and depriving society of their energies and skills. Implementation of commitment 3 of the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development on promoting the goal of full employment is fundamentally important for these very reasons, as are the strategies and policies outlined in the Programme of Action of the World Summit and the further initiatives for growth of employment recommended by the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly. There is a need to increase awareness in the workplace of the benefits of maintaining an ageing work force.” (UN 2002, para. 23)

To achieve the objective, several actions are suggested for governments and employers to enable older persons to continue working as long as they want to work and are able to do so. In particular, they are encouraged to “take action to increase participation in the labour market of the working age population and to reduce the risk of exclusion or dependency in later life” (UN, 2002). MIPAA, Priority Direction 1, Issue 2, Objective 1, action (c)). It goes on to suggest promotion of self-employment for older persons, assisting those already in the informal sector by improving income, conditions, and productivity, and to eliminate age barriers in the formal labor market by promoting recruitment of older people and a new approach to retirement that takes account of the needs of employees as well as employers. Possible measures could include reducing incentives and pressures for early retirement and removing disincentives to working beyond retirement age. It recognizes the importance of caring for the health of older workers, especially those with chronic diseases. Importantly, it suggests promoting a realistic portrayal of older workers’ skills and countering damaging ageist stereotypes. Clearly, many of these issues are difficult to address in practical terms, but every nation now needs to recognize the importance of the UN MIPAA and associated action plans and implementation strategies, especially with respect to older workers and workplace practices.

Ultimately, employment measures to assist older workers such as engaging employers, lifelong learning, flexible policies, flexible government social security and pension provisions, changing the work environment, and Person-Environment (P-E) fit aspects will come to the forefront. Moreover, what is good for aging workforces is likely to be good for all ages (as in the UN Programme on Ageing’s Society for All Ages) (UN, 2002). It is likely to encompass social trends such as aging in place, with adequate housing, transportation, plus integrated health and social care services.

Selected Issues Arising from Aging Workforces

Numerous issues arise from the above trends and data, briefly introduced here to be followed up in subsequent chapters. Many of these issues concern the myths and realities of older workers in the labor market, and some concern perceived and real train (p. 22) ing needs, and the strengths and weaknesses of older workers. First, some question the future demand for older workers.

The Myth of Needing Skilled Older Workers?

Economists have, in recent years, fairly consistently predicted future shortages of skilled younger workers, and put more weight on older workers who possess advanced job skills (Steinhauser, 1998). From this perspective, older workers have a positive contribution and will be much needed. For example, the paucity of skilled people in America’s workforce has been a problem for management for some years (Hall & Mirvis, 1994). The Government of Singapore and others, including Japan, are also concerned about loss of labor productivity and skills. In many countries, especially the richer economies, people aged 45- to 64 years occupy a substantial proportion of highly qualified jobs. This theme, aging workers as a resource in a knowledge-based economy, is fairly common in the literature. As people age, they typically gain experience and often have higher levels of task-related expertise. As one would probably imagine, experience is typically associated with higher levels of work performance.

However, the relationship between experience and performance is nonlinear (McDaniel, Schmidt, & Hunter, 1988). Experience in some jobs may be gained relatively quickly, with the greatest experience-related difference in performance being between an employee with no experience and one with a year of experience. Each subsequent year of experience tends to have less and less impact on performance. A corollary is sometimes argued that the experience and expertise older employees bring to the workplace has little positive impact. While this may be true with respect to performance, there is some evidence that increased experience and expertise may increase safety. Hansen (1989), for example, found that age negatively related to accident involvement in a large sample of petrochemical employees. Older workers have been found to have relatively good safety records and reliability even in manual work in the construction industry (Siu, Phillips, & Leung, 2003).

Some organizations such as the OECD approach this issue as much from the needs of the worker as the economy. For example, if little is done to promote better employment prospects for older workers, the number of retirees per worker in OECD countries will double over the next five decades, threatening living standards and placing huge pressure on social protection systems. The argument then becomes the imperative to make work more attractive and rewarding for older workers and, by implication, for employers. A number of methods are suggested: strong financial incentives to carry on working and the elimination of subsidized pathways to early retirement; adaptation of wage-setting and employment practices so that employers have stronger incentives to hire and retain older workers; appropriate help and encouragement for older workers to improve their employability; and, finally, improvement in attitudes to working at an older age, both among employers and older workers (OECD, 2006).

Retirement or Work: Unemployed Older Persons

In many countries, older persons do not wish to retire completely, at a fixed point, and there has been some blurring between work and retirement for older workers. Indeed, some data suggest that the majority of older Americans with career jobs retire gradually, in stages, using “bridge jobs” or working less than full time (Cahill, Giandrea, & Quinn, 2006). Elderly poverty, and the fear of poverty, has been a powerful factor, as well as psychological factors of well-being associated with productive aging. Many older people in the United States and elsewhere, especially in lower-income countries where pensions are rare, clearly want and need to work. However, especially in difficult economic times, older employees are less likely to be rehired after industry layoffs. Older workers typically suffer extended periods of joblessness after being laid off, and when they do find work, it is often at salary levels lower than they have earned in the past. Research in Australia has found that unemployment in older Australians often goes unnoticed (National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre, 2009). Unemployment in this demographic group, 55 to 65, is too often considered as early retirement, so mature workers can often be overlooked in jobless figures. It suggests that, in 2009, many older people are not participating in the workforce as much as they would like and the participation rate of older Australians is much lower than their younger counterparts. While this may be partially by choice, older workers suffer more “hidden unemployment” and “underemployment” than other age groups. Compared to other countries, the research notes that Australia is not very disciplined when it comes to employing older people and they may be victims of discrimination, and the contribution they can (p. 23) make in the workplace is often underrated. In economic terms, the research estimated that full-time older workers contributed A$59.6 billion a year to Australia’s economy, while at the same time the country lost a staggering A$10.8 billion a year by not using the skills and experience of older Australians who want to work. With a rapidly aging population and looming skill shortage, it stresses the need to ensure older people can continue working and providing an important economic contribution.

Further, in coping terms, although some younger workers may regard periods of unemployment as a normal part of the process of finding the right job, many older workers tend to interpret job loss differently, perhaps as a sign of personal failure and/or as a serious loss of security. Such older workers may experience heightened levels of anxiety and depression and higher risk of physical illness in the period after the job loss as well as the financial strain exacerbated by the lower chances of gaining new employment (Crowley, Hayslip, & Hobdy, 2003; He, Colantonio, & Marshall, 2003; Isakson, Johansson, Bellaagh, & Sjoberg, 2004). Indirect effects of job loss can include changes in family relationships and loss of self-esteem; marital relationships can deteriorate after one or the other partner has been laid off. Separation and divorce become much more common as a result (Conger, Patterson, & Ge, 1995). For various psychosocial reasons, unemployed people are less likely than others to participate in the community than others (Ball & Orford, 2002), which could lead to older people becoming yet more isolated. There is also evidence from Japan of increased suicide rates with unemployment (Inoue et al., 2006), and a feeling of not being wanted or of uselessness may partly underlie a high suicide rate among older persons in several Asia-Pacific countries (Phillips, 2000). The success or otherwise of involuntary midlife career changes may well be affected by individuals’ coping, and those with good coping skills may be less likely to become depressed (Cook & Heppner, 1997; Zunker, 2006).

Health Changes And Older Workers

An important issue for the older worker is the myth or reality of physical and psychological health changes. In addition, the question remains largely unanswered as to whether there is a gradually worsening health in old age or a “compression of morbidity” into the last period of life (Kinsella & Phillips, 2005; McCracken & Phillips, 2005). Many middle-aged adults, including the employed, report that they experience annoying aches and pains with greater frequency than when younger (Helme, 1998). Moreover, many middle-aged adults, especially women, are unhappy with their bodies; most would prefer to be thinner (Allaz, Bernstein, Rouget, Archinard, & Morabia, 1998). Perhaps half of adults between 40 and 65 have either some diagnosed disease or disability or a significant but undiagnosed problem, such as the early stages of heart disease. The two leading causes of death in middle age are heart disease and cancer. Few diseases are as frightening as cancer, and many middle-aged individuals view a cancer diagnosis as a death sentence, though the reality is different. Many forms of cancer respond quite well to medical treatment and many people diagnosed with the disease are still alive 5 years later, though cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States (Xu et al, 2010).

Mental And Psychological Health Issues

Most types of severe mental health problems are considerably more common in early adulthood than in the middle years of adult life, and these problems are also common among older workers. Nevertheless, about two thirds of people diagnosed with serious mental disorders in early adulthood continue to have difficulties in middle age (Meeks, 1997). Furthermore, though most addictive disorders begin in adolescence or early adulthood, they often go undiagnosed until middle adulthood years, when they begin to have undeniable effects on health and other areas of functioning (Boyd & Bee, 2006). Alcoholism, for instance, defined as physical and psychological dependence on alcohol, takes a particularly heavy toll during middle age (Laakso et al., 2000). Functional deficits among alcoholics include problems with memory and language.

Stress has a significant impact on health during middle adulthood as in earlier life, although the nature and causes of stress may change. Generally, stress, specifically work stress, produces three main consequences (Feldman, 2008). There may be direct physiological outcomes, ranging from increased blood pressure and hormonal activity to decreased immune system response among older workers; second, it may lead older workers to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as cutting back on sleep, smoking, drinking, or taking other drugs. Finally, stress has indirect effects on health-related behavior, which may lead to serious health problems. People (p. 24) under a lot of stress may be less likely to seek out good medical care, to exercise, or to comply with medical advice (Suinn, 2001; Suls & Wallston, 2003). In terms of abnormal psychological conditions, unipolar depression may be more common in older patients and also paranoia, although this may well also be associated with the onset of other problems such as dementia.

A fairly widespread but inaccurate belief among laypersons is that intelligence tends to decline with age. Indeed, for some time, even some experts have suggested that intelligence peaks at age 18, stays fairly steady until the mid-twenties, and then begins a gradual decline that continues until the end of life (Feldman, 2008). Today, however, it seems clear that changes in intelligence across the life span are more complicated and involve at least two kinds of intelligence: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence reflects information-processing capabilities, reasoning, and memory. By contrast, crystallized intelligence is the accumulation of information, skills, and strategies that people have learned through experience and that they can apply in problem-solving situations. Today, most researchers suggest that fluid intelligence does decline somewhat with age, whereas crystallized intelligence holds steady and in some cases actually improves, emphasizing the benefits of experience among older workers (Bugg et al., 2006; Ryan, Sattler, & Lopez, 2000; Salthouse, Atkinson, & Berish, 2003). Studies suggest some aspects of crystallized pragmatics (such as verbal knowledge) do not show decline until people are in their late eighties. Indeed, some people’s vocabularies increase well into their seventies (Marcoen, Coleman, & O’Hanlon, 2007). To the employer of older workers, this finding may be encouraging and again reasserts the value of experience and “wisdom.”

More important, especially in old age and later old age, is the incidence of dementias and Alzheimer’s disease, which may cause between 50% and 75% of all dementias, with a further 20% to 30% of dementias possibly from vascular and other causes (Alzheimer’s Disease International, 2009, 2010). Strictly speaking, dementias are a condition or symptoms rather than a specific disease. Dementias can involve a variety of conditions, associated with damage to brain tissue, such as impaired cognitive functioning, impaired behavior, and personality changes. Dementias are not a normal part of the aging process, but the risk of developing the condition increases as people grow older. Some 10% to 13% of the U.S. population aged over 65 are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, rising to over 40% of those aged 85-plus, although these people would presumably mainly be retired already. Similar if not as high rates of dementias have already been noted in the Asia-Pacific region, where over half of the world’s older population live and it is estimated that the numbers of people with dementias here will at least triple between the early 2000s and 2050 (Access Economics, 2006). These issues pose very important questions for public policy and considerable implications for older workers and their families. Dementia care is often a full-time task, necessitating one or more younger (or old) family members devoting time to care or consuming considerable private or public expenditure on caring. Increasingly, from now on, dementias are likely to be a huge challenge to ageing workforces in the richer countries but the major future increases are likely to be in the low and middle-income countries (Alzheimer’s Disease International, 2010; Alzheimer’s Disease Association, 2011).

Images and Stereotypes of Older Workers

Stereotypes may be thought of as “cognitive structures that store our beliefs and expectations about the characteristics of members of social groups,” and stereotyping as “the process of applying the stereotypic information” (Cuddy & Fiske, 2002, p. 4). McCann and Giles (2002) suggest that ageist stereotypes in the workplace do not occur in isolation but reflect more generalized societal stereotypes of older people. They can be fairly generalized, can be international, and can prejudice employment of and attitudes toward older workers. They have appeared over several decades and can include perceptions of older persons as being irritable, decrepit, cranky, weak, feebleminded, and cognitively deficient (Braithwaite, Gibson, & Holman, 1986); being useless and ugly (Palmore, 1990); being slower and more likely to become weary (Warr, 1994); being resistant to change, lacking creativity, being slow in judgment, and having lower physical capacity, disinterest in technology, and a lower potential for development (Gibson, Zerbe, & Franken, 1993; McCreadie, 2010); being less able to grasp new ideas (Warr & Pennington, 1993); being less flexible (Vrugt & Schabracq, 1996); being less adaptable (Steinberg et al., 1996); being resistant to training (Capowski, 1994); being less motivated or inclined to participate in learning and development activities (Finkelstein, Burke & Raju, 1995); not working well in teams (Lyon & Pollard, 1997); being less economically beneficial (Finkelstein, Higgins, & (p. 25) Clancy, 2000); and being more rigid and prone to illnesses and accidents (Rhodes, 1983).

By contrast, many studies have shown more positive images of older people (Finkelstein et al., 2000; Hummert et al., 1994). Employers often rate older employees highly on dimensions of reliability, dependability, conscientiousness, loyalty, and stability. Many British personnel managers (79%) reported older workers to be more reliable than the young, to be relatively productive (83%), and to offer a good return on expenditure (84%) (Hayward et al., 1997). Moreover, as a stereotyped group, older people scored highly on social warmth (Cuddy & Fiske, 2002), and, as noted, older workers have relatively good safety records and reliability even in construction industry work (Siu, Phillips, & Leung, 2003).

It seems that physical as well as psychological aging is an important feature of the largely negative attitudes towards old age and aging, and negative stereotypes are more easily activated when photos of very old people are shown (Hummert, 1999). Simplistic attitudes towards older people tend to be important where no other information about a person is present; when more individual information becomes available, people tend to rely less on their preconceived attitudes (Kite & Wagner, 2002).

Age Bias And Discrimination in the Workplace

Ageism or age bias can survive in the workplace in negative attitudes toward older people. Many attitude studies have found that older adults are viewed more negatively than younger ones on a variety of traits, particularly those having to do with general competence and attractiveness (Angus & Reeve, 2006; Cuddy & Fiske, 2004; Thornton, 2002). Furthermore, identical behavior carried out by an older and a younger person may be interpreted quite differently (Nelson, 2004). Such ageism may be reflected in the way older workers are treated, and stereotypes may influence behavior by both observers and members of the stereotyped group. Age discrimination at work is an important focus of workplace age-bias research (Gordon & Arvey, 2004), including consideration of major decisions in a workplace context (e.g., selection, promotion, training opportunities). Older job seekers may face prejudice, being told in job interviews that they lack the stamina for particular jobs, for instance, or they may be relegated to jobs for which they are overqualified. For various reasons, including economic, some employers encourage older workers to quit so they can be replaced by less-expensive younger employees. Employers may also offer training opportunities only to younger workers, who may then advance in salary and career faster than older workers (Hays-Thomas, 2004; Hedge, Borman & Lammlein, 2006; Rupp, Vodanovich & Crede, 2006). Despite the promotion of age-friendly workplace policies by many governments, such as in Britain and Australia (Taylor, 2002), research over many years has shown that age discrimination remains and can affect older workers’ deployment, job security, promotion, and retention (Arrowsmith & McGoldrick, 1996; Taylor & Walker, 1998).

This is in spite of the fact that the United States and many other countries have longstanding anti-age discrimination legislation (such as the Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967, amended in several subsequent years). Such legislation attempts to prohibit discrimination in the hiring or firing of an employee on the basis of age, discrimination in pay and other privileges, advertising to recruit only for certain age groups, and the like. But in many places, and especially in the developing world, age-related job discrimination certainly persists, even though it may on paper be illegal.


Organizations have become much more concerned about employee health in recent years (Hofmann & Tetrick, 2003), due largely to astronomical increases in health insurance premiums. Research indicates that older adults often experience more serious effects and disabilities following accidents and take longer to recover from workplace accidents than younger workers (Shea, 1991; Warr, 1994), yet it also suggests that younger workers are hurt more often than their older counterparts. It is reinforced by Choi, Levitsky, Lloyd, & Stones (1996), who found that beyond age 30 minor injuries affecting short-term work capacity occur more often. Older workers may lose more work time as a result of accidents than their younger counterparts, even though the frequency of some types of accidents declines with age.

Hansson, Dekoekkoek, Neece, & Patterson (1997) emphasize that, instead of using research to justify stereotypical perceptions of older workers as lower performers in hazardous settings, individual differences must be noted. For example, Landy (1996) found that individuals over 50 in certain occupations, such as firefighting and policing, were less likely to die from catastrophic accident than workers in other stressful jobs. This is further sup (p. 26) ported by Kay et al. (1994), who found that pilot accident rates declined with age and leveled off at the mid-forties. Siu, Phillips, & Leung (2003), in a sample of 374 Chinese construction workers, found occupational injuries were related to age in a curvilinear manner, with injuries at first increasing with age, then decreasing. In many developed countries, fewer jobs will be likely to require excessive physical strength, so reliability and experience could become much more important than fears of injury and absenteeism among older workers.

Keeping Up with Technological Changes

Worldwide, but especially in the developed world, the move has been from work being primarily in physically challenging industries to work that is increasing mentally challenging: service-sector work or work involving some aspects of technology. Alongside this trend has been a rapid rise in the employment of technology, mainly in the form of microchip technology, but also of lower-level and intermediate technology. This has actual and potential importance for older workers. As discussed above, there are ingrained beliefs in many cultures that older people are unable or unwilling to change, or to cope with change, are not worthy of training because they will not be around long, learn slowly, do poorly in formal education, and are IT-illiterate or unwilling to interact with IT. Sometimes this belief is fostered by older people themselves in self-defensive postures about the perceived complexity of new technology.

There is, as ever, a grain of truth in these images. In the United States, for example, older adults report lower use of technology than younger adults (Czaja et al., 2006) and, a few years ago, were far less likely to be computer and Internet users (A Nation Online, 2002; The UCLA Internet Report, 2003). Surveys in European countries have identified similar trends (Tacken, Marcellini, Mollenkopf, Ruoppila, & Szeman, 2005). Some explanation for lesser use of technology by older adults may be attributed to anxieties about and attitudes concerning technology, coupled with some normative age-related declines in cognition that make using complex technology a more difficult task (Czaja et al., 2006). Another contributory factor can be the age-related perceptual and psychomotor changes that make interacting with such systems more challenging.

However, although these changes may tend to occur with age, it is important to recognize that many declines in abilities have limited impact on real-world task performance and that older workers are frequently willing and able to learn new tasks and skills. Indeed, IT for communications, and many types of adaptive and assistive technology, may be readily accepted and wanted by older people, especially baby boomers who grew up with technology (Mashburn, 2011). Many studies (such as those by Czaja and Sharit, 1998; Czaja, Sharit, Ownby, Roth, & Nair, 2001; and Sharit et al., 2004) have shown that older adults are quite willing and able to learn technology-based work tasks. Indeed, many older adults learned IT skills, even when there has been a language challenge, as among older residents in Hong Kong (Chan, Siu, & Phillips, 2008). Some studies have shown that older university students learn just as quickly as their younger counterparts, and Sharit et al. (2004) found that older participants demonstrated improved performance using e-mail handling with practice. Gerontologists have shown that older people rapidly used mobile phone technology to keep in touch with family and friends in rural Thailand (Knodel & Saengtienchai, 2007).

Work–Life Balance

Work and family are the most central and salient domains in most people’s lives. Since the late 1970s, and particular in the 1990s, increasing interest emerged in the interface between work and non-work life, especially family life. Juggling work and family life has become a challenge for many employees and families (Hammer et al., 2005). Furthermore, unbalanced work–family relationships can result in reduced health and performance outcomes for individuals, families, and organizations (Voydanoff, 2004; Wayne, Musisca, & Fleeson, 2004).

The aging of the workforce will probably change the way organizations and the average worker view work–family balance. With respect to work–family conflict, studies indicate that conflict between work and family increases as people get married and/or have children (Higgins, Duxbury, & Lee, 1994). However, as the age of the youngest child increases (as individuals/families move up through life stages) the amount of work–family conflict experienced will ultimately decrease. Because parents with younger children experience heavy and often unpredictable demands on their time (Hochschild, 2003), it is not surprising that they generally report the highest levels of work–family conflict. Higgins et al. (1994), using a large sample (N = 3,616) of Canadian public sector employees, found that levels of work–family conflict were lower in the later life stages.

(p. 27) There were gender differences, however: although men reported lower levels of work–family conflict at each successive life stage, women reported similar levels of conflict in the early stages and then reported a large drop-off in later life stages. In general, most research seems to support the idea that work–family conflict will increase during the first few life stages but then decrease as individuals move through the later stages. Because life stages are strongly correlated with age, it may be assumed that work–family conflict will show this same nonlinear relationship with age and that older individuals at the later life stages will tend to experience less work–family conflict.

A more important trend may be an apparent shift, in many developed and even developing economies, in the importance individuals attribute to their career versus their family across the life span. Specifically, it appears that younger employees focus more on their careers than older employees (Staudinger, 1996). Furthermore, when considering work–family conflicts, younger workers tend to focus more on the problems or challenge with their children than on their relationship with their significant others. Old employees, by contrast, report paying more attention to private life in general and to their marriages in particular. Balancing work and family life seems to take on more importance for older employees; older employees, unlike younger employees, do not see work–family conflict as a given and adopt more coping strategies (Baltes & Young, 2007).

Future Directions and Foci in Global Aging and Workforces

A major direction for future research in global aging and the workforce is the analysis of the interplay effects of population aging and economic growth. As Bloom et al. (2008, p. 28) note, this is “virgin territory”; given that the size and nature of current global, and local, economic shifts are unprecedented, past trends will be unlikely to provide reliable guidance. Many demographers and economists need to rely on labor force models. However, psychologists are also well placed to be involved in this study, as sociobehavioral change will be a key to understanding the interrelationships between population aging (global, national, and local), economic growth, and acceptance and adaptability of older people in the workforce.

The growth of the older market (the “silver market,” as it is being called), too, will be a major area of future interest, combining demographic aging, producer and consumer behavior, and the changing needs of older populations (Furlong, 2007). This revolves around the provision and growing demand for services, goods, and accommodation for and by older people, which may in some economies be great enough to offset much of the reduction in consumption at younger ages. Tomorrow’s older people, many of whom will be wealthier and better educated, especially in developed and many middle-income countries, are likely to become more demanding as citizens and consumers. They will be unlikely to accept the poor lifestyles based on limited retirement incomes that many of today’s older generation have to tolerate. Politicians and consumer goods companies will ignore their needs at their peril.

Finally, social and fiscal policies are also crucial and may well affect the future of work. The area of behavioral economics will become important and increasingly influence policy. Will tax regimes, for example, make it worthwhile for older people to continue working? Many countries, too, are considering how to stimulate falling fertility levels with welfare and tax incentives, even if these have very rarely had any significant effect in the past. Such areas at the interface of psychology, demography, and social and fiscal policy will become increasingly important.

  1. 1. What are the likely demographic changes in developed countries—will populations continue with low fertility and demographic aging?

  2. 2. What of the poorer countries—will they join the trend of demographic aging as quickly as the middle-income countries have done?

  3. 3. What are the likely future trends in LFPRs—will retirement ages globally become more flexible?

  4. 4. How will older workers be perceived and treated in an aging world?

  5. 5. What are the likely LFPRs of older men and women in the future? These will hold very important implications for both economic development and the nature and extent of successful retirement.

  6. 6. Does migration have the real potential to counterbalance labor excesses in developing countries and labor shortages in some developed countries?

  7. 7. What kinds of social and organizational policies could help older workers to adjust better in the workforce and achieve higher levels of well-being?

Further Reading References

Kinsella, K., & Phillips, D. R. (2005). Global aging: the challenge of success. Population Bulletin, 60(1), 1–40.Find this resource:

    Kinsella, K., & He, W. (2009). An aging world 2008. U.S. Census Bureau International Population Reports P95/09-1. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Find this resource:

      UNDESA. (2007). World economic and social survey 2007: Development in an ageing world. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. New York: UN.Find this resource:

        UNDESA. (2008). Regional dimensions of the ageing situation. New York: UN.Find this resource:

          Access Economics. (2006). Dementia in the Asia Pacific—the epidemic is here. Report and Executive Summary for Asia Pacific Members of Alzheimer’s Disease International. Accessed Aug. 19, 2009, from

          Allaz, A., Bernstein, M., Rouget, P., Archinard, M., & Morabia, A. (1998). Body weight preoccupation in middle-aged and ageing women: A general population survey. International Journal of Eating Disorder, 23, 287–294.Find this resource:

            Alley, D., & Crimmins, E. (2007). The demography of aging and work. In K. S. Shultz & G. A. Adams (Eds.), Aging and work in the 21st century (pp. 7–24). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Find this resource:

              Alzheimer’s Association. (2011). Generation Alzheimer’s: the defining disease of the baby boomers. Alzheimer’s Association, New York.

              Alzheimer’s Disease International. (2009). World Alzheimer Report 2009. London: Alzheimer’s Disease International.Find this resource:

                Alzheimer’s Disease International. (2010). World Alzheimer Report 2010, The Global Economic Impact of Dementia. London: Alzheimer’s Disease International.Find this resource:

                  Amato, P., & Previti, D. (2003). People’s reasons foe divorcing: Gender, social class, the life course, and adjustment. Journal of Family Issues, 24, 602–626.Find this resource:

                    Angus, J., & Reeve, P. (2006). Ageism: A threat to “aging well” in the 21st century. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 25, 137–152.Find this resource:

                      Anthony, J. C., & Aboraya, A. (1992).The epidemiology of selected mental disorders in later life. In J. E. Birren, R. B. Sloane, & G. D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of mental health and aging (2nd ed., pp. 28–73). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Find this resource:

                        Arrowsmith, J., & McGoldrick, E. (1996). HRM service practices: flexibility, quality and employee strategy. International Journal of Service Industry Management. Bradford, 7(3), 46.Find this resource:

                          Avery, D. R., McKay, P. F., & Wilson, D. C. (2007). Engaging the aging workforce: the relation between perceived age similarity, satisfaction with coworkers and employment engagement. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 1542–1556.Find this resource:

                            Ball, M., & Orford, J. (2002). Meaningful patterns of activity amongst the long-term inner city unemployed: a qualitative study. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 12, 377–396.Find this resource:

                              Baltes, B. B., & Young, L. M. (2007). Aging and work/family issues. In K. S. Shultz & G. A. Adams (Eds.), Aging and work in the 21st century (pp. 251–275). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Find this resource:

                                Beehr, T. A., & Bowling, N. A. (2002). Career issues facing older workers. In D. Feldman (Ed.), Work careers: A developmental perspective (pp. 214–241). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Find this resource:

                                  Berhkout, E. (2008). Effects of ageing: potential employment gaps and the possible role of migration. European Review, 16(4), 517–527.Find this resource:

                                    Bloom, D. E., Canning, D., & Fink, G. (2008). Population aging and economic growth. Program on the Global Demography of Aging, PGDA Working Paper no. 31, Harvard Initiative for Global Health.

                                    Boyd, D. R., & Bee, H. (2006). Lifespan development. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Find this resource:

                                      Braithwaite, V., Gibson, D., & Holman, J. (1986). Age stereotyping: Are we oversimplifying the phenomenon? International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 22, 315–325.Find this resource:

                                        Bugg. J., Zook, N., DeLosh, E., Davalos, D., & Davis, H. (2006). Age differences in fluid intelligence: Contributions of general slowing and frontal decline. Brain and Cognition, 62, 9–16.Find this resource:

                                          Bunce, D., & Sisa, L. (2002). Age differences in perceived workload across a short vigil. Ergonomics, 45, 949–960.Find this resource:

                                            Cahill, K. E., Giandrea, M. D., & Quinn, J. F. (2006). Are traditional retirements a thing of the past? New evidence on retirement patterns and bridge jobs. Business Perspectives, 18(2), 26–37.Find this resource:

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