The Management of Active Ageing: From the Increasing of the Retirement Age to the New Risks of Employment among the Middle Aged

3. National Conduct, Perspectives and Risks

But let’s return to the results. The real age of retirement was increased by only one year with intermediate swings during the period concerned. Meanwhile employment rates linearly reduced the Lisbon objective gap by about half. In light of these two trends an attempt at interpretation which of course doesn’t pretend to be a full or definitive explanation, is unavoidable. The sheer number and complexity of the elements in play, involving as they do material interests, organizational models, relational habits, consolidated employer practices and acquired social rights, cultural models, lifestyles and so on, certainly don’t allow us to give an adequate response here. Nevertheless an attempt will be made to set out a sort of reflection which might give some kind of satisfactory idea.
First of all the European action, followed by that of the member states. Though not in a mechanical process, starting from the second half of the 90s the action required by the European Union towards older workers was based in national reforms of social security systems and of national labour markets. From this point of view it seems reasonable to affirm that, in a general manner it can be said in the great majority of the cases, national action was stronger and more immediate in the former. This occurred for a variety of reasons, from the varied institutional composition of the two sectors within the member states, with social security policies being completely centralized and labour market policies being ‘mixed’, with important management and decision making powers devolved to regional level, to the greater possibility that social security policies offered for working both through the introduction of restrictive homogeneous measures concerning the requirements for leaving employment early, and through the introduction of incentive/penalty mechanisms as a lever towards ‘virtuous’ individual behaviour, regardless of subjective and contextual conditions more or less favourable to their being brought into force. The increase in employment among the middle aged through management of the labour market as an objective is decisively more complex, both because of the lack of territorial homogeneity in the arrival of European and regional instructions and because — regardless of the more or less excellent regional policy plans — it is deeply immersed in the wider system of local convictions and economic and social relations.
Re the first part, that concerning the social security reforms the reform actions are more comparable (and comparative) than those taken concerning employment policies. Perhaps this is also because the former had, at the level of the single states’ institutional organization, central points of reference, being at the same time expression of national welfare culture, which, though diversified from a European lead, found in social security their first and most consolidated expression, bringing about the existence of more similar and more closely comparable institutions from one country to another with regard to structures and methods of governing the labour market. Simplifying things on this basis they acted, in line with European directives. On the one hand they began to put barriers and legislative chains in place against the various kinds of early exits from work. On the other they introduced the exit flexibility principle in relation to age, introducing increases and reductions in future pension incomes linked to the effective length of an individual’s employment, and introducing forms of gradual retirement. It has to be restated that though connected to the SEO, compared to social security reforms the European labour market reforms express a greater heterogeneity and hence a lesser trans and intra-national comparability. This is probably due to their being less closely a part of the historical events of European welfare, and also to their non-central state connotations, with more institutional local government allocations. The personalization of policies is moreover an activity that requires, beyond the differences of the national pathways more or less predisposed to the activation criterion, very high levels of resources and competences, not available in every national welfare scenario. Despite the limits of comparative empirical research into how to bring about employment among the middle aged it is still clear that the Scandinavian and Anglo Saxon countries, more than those of continental and Mediterranean Europe have set up relatively timely and integrated policies and practices for bringing about employment for the middle aged, aimed at both company level as well as at the level of employment system structures put in place by the territorial government.
By way of an example we will look briefly not only at Italy but at three countries characteristic of as many methods of approach to the subject of employment for the middle aged (see Figure 1). The best performances are (as is well known) those achieved by Finland considered on the European plane to be the case par excellence. Flexible ages of retirement (between 62 and 68 years) are in force, as have been, since the first years of the 21st century, integrated policy plans at national and sector and local level, in which an important role has been assigned to the territorial socio-economic players, France and the United Kingdom. Finland, for its ‘historically’ more integrated approach aimed at maintaining the working capability of the middle aged; France for the limits of coherence of its policies for keeping the middle aged in employment, perhaps overtaken today by the recent launch of a national plan directed at the world of employment; the United Kingdom is distinguished in its turn both for the presence of anti discrimination measures, and for the very forceful action of compulsory encouragement and personalized support through national plans and programmes aimed at bringing the middle aged into employment. France follows. Its action was characterized by contradictory policies until 2006 when the Villepin government launched an important national five year Plan based on five measures (socio-cultural representation; maintenance; re-entry; career end; refinancing) and 31 lines. The United Kingdom’s performance is only just better than that of Italy, and it has relied on integration between (low) social security incomes and employment incomes. Important initiatives have been launched recently, among them the ‘New deal fifty plus’ (in 2002); ‘Pathways work’ (in 2005); the national age discrimination act (in 2006).
Italy is at the lowest levels of the average European performance, recording in 2006 a negative differential of 1.3 percentage points compared to overall European employment. The most analytic statistics have shown how the recent growth in employment among the older age groups has been characterized by a strong, particularly female presence in temporary, part time jobs. This would suggest both the ‘obligation’ to take insecure work on the part of those no longer able to find other jobs, and the possible convergence of the need for reciprocal ‘disengagement’ with the contemporaneous use of professional capabilities set in time (Cnel, Report on the employment market, 2006).

Figure 1: Some ‘simplified’ empirical evidence EU15 and four countries: France, Italy, Finland, United Kingdom)
Source: Eurostat.

The average exit from work age in 2005 recorded a four months differential (EU=61,1; Italy=59,7) and on this subject it is interesting to note the contrasting trend in old age pensions. A recent study by Ires showed how between 2002 and 2006 the population of old age pensioners grew by around 25%. And that in any case the old age pension structure is going through unexpected change, above all with regards to the age profile which in the last four year period has moved decisively forward. In particular while in 2002 the age group most represented was that of the 60-64 year olds (followed by the 55-59 year olds) in 2006 the situation was markedly changed, with there being almost as many 65-69 year olds as there were in the group before them, and they were in second place among the old age pension age groups. It is further indicative that while early retirements show a net fall there has been a growth in the burden on the ‘Cassa integrazione e mobilità’ (translator’s note: a State fund within the scope of the National Social Security Institute — INPS) (also according to the study by Ires, between 2000 and 2004 the number of beneficiaries of these two funds rose from around 85,000 to 105,000). The age groups of the beneficiaries of these two funds were concentrated around those of retirement age (50-55 year olds 55-60 year olds), with a progressive growth among the latter which in the last five year period has become the majority age group (Ires: “Between Strategies and Exits. The Policies of Upgrading Employment Among the Middle Aged and the Activity of the Elderly, Printed, Rome, 2007).

4. Concluding Considerations

In view of the restructuring processes of the 80s and 90s, the ‘strong’ structure of ‘classic European welfare represented a safeguard element for the male workforce in full time and permanent employment. On the basis of the heavy handed and distorted use of the European social security regimes (rather than of employment policies) and in that they were placed in the pension regimes, the over 45s found themselves being saddled with an old age status (for purposes of employment). With the changed economic, social and demographic conditions a serious change in thinking concerning the European social protection system subsequently became necessary and it had to limit early exits, concentrating more on the activity of those more advanced in years. In this process the European Union played a fundamental guiding role for the member states, developing a process which culminated in the European Lisbon Strategy (2,000), strengthened and amended following a mid term evaluation (2005). Accompanied by these encouragements and by the ongoing dialectic with the EU, member states introduced policies aimed at reversing the ‘early exits’ cycle, setting in motion, or developing measures both in the area of social security reforms and in that of the return to and taking up of employment, aimed at strengthening the over 45 year old workers, retaining them in and getting them back into work. This new process can still appear characterized by the long line of criteria restrictions on access to early exit and by the operation of the social security reforms launched in Europe around the mid 90s, including the increase in the retirement age, and in which were included the incentive/penalty mechanisms relating to longer or shorter employment duration. Of course there were also innovations on the labour market policy front. Among these the European employment Strategy created a significant push forward and brought harmonization. Experiences in this area however, are more recent, showing greater distinguishing points of ‘exemplariness’ while being less comparable, also given the una tantum characteristics of the national Plans launched in favour of employment among the middle aged and the decentralized government structure of national labour markets. In this framework the strongest and most visible actions are those promoted by the Nordic countries (which develop socially concerted re-organisation and employment and health policy) and by the United Kingdom (in which there is a distinctive combination of reforms, in the restrictive sense, of social security and the development of actions aimed at the employment of the weakest). In view of this the employment rates among the middle aged begin to rise again from the mid 90s, though with notable deviations from country to country (Italy is one of those at the tail end of this recovery) and often, thanks to the female contingent of the labour market (which probably responds to different reasons for participating in employment). However on average they generally fall far behind the objectives set at Lisbon.
To sum up, the long period of recovery in employment among the middle aged has been characterized by its path along two main policy directions: that relating to social security and that relating to labour market policies. At national level the two trends usually developed in a distinct manner, with a greater advance of and emphasis on the social security trend. Subsequently the attention focused, again usually also on the labour market (where the aim was to pass from passive income protection to putting the workforce into action) and in such a way as to bring about greater integration between the two areas. The reasons for the different timing are clear. It is undoubtedly easier, using central policy guidelines, to limit the various kinds of early exits (starting with the individual and voluntary ones) thus raising the real average retirement ages which in turn would influence the employment rates among those advanced in years.
In light of the overall framework of both changes in policy and results obtained in recent years it seems possible to conclude that it won’t be long before there are further adjustments to social security policies alone. In Italy above all it would be necessary today to proceed with conviction to the launching of integrated national sector and inter-sector policies; the efficient bringing into force of regional and local policies and measures (developing the capacity of local structures for the personalization and placement of the middle aged), of thoroughly renovated company age cultures, capable of regenerating investment in the workforce, and finally to serious changes in the various forms of social behaviour, often subtly discriminatory, to which each of us is probably unwittingly prone.


European Commission, Social Protection Committee (2007): Active Ageing. The Policies of EU Member States, Bunderministerium für Arbeit und Soziales, Bonn.

Mirabile, M.L (2006): “Essere Over. Età, lavoro e nuovi scenari di welfare”, Quaderno Spinn, n. 23, Roma.

Ires (2007): “Between Strategies and Exits. The Policies of Upgrading Employment Among the Middle Aged and the Activity of the Elderly, Printed, Rome.

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