Active Ageing: What differential experiences across EU countries?

3.2 Voluntary work by people aged 50+
The data collected by SHARE, covering people of aged 50+, throws further light on the involvement of older people in unpaid work, specifically on their participation in voluntary work. Data used is drawn from the survey question in which a respondent has been asked whether he/she has been actively engaged in voluntary or charity work in the month before the interview. These results for eight EU countries are presented in Table 5 below.
Looking at the overall results, it is clear that the Netherlands is in a league of its own: more than 20% of those aged 50+ engage in volunteering activities. The other high volunteer work countries are two Nordic countries: Sweden and Denmark, where in excess of 17% report volunteering. The Southern European countries are on the other end of the spectrum as they report typically low volunteering activities: 7% of the Italian and only 3% of the Greek respondents have been engaged in volunteer work. Germany, France and Austria show medium volunteering activity levels (around 10%). Results subdivided across subgroups show following key patterns.

• Volunteering is performed more often by men than by women, particularly in France and Sweden.3 Exceptions to this pattern are observed in the Netherlands, where the reverse is true and in Greece, where there is no difference between men and women.
• The information on the age-specific variance in volunteering activity among the elderly is complete only for four countries: France, Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden. For these countries, volunteering increases as people enter in the post-retirement phase of life (from age group 50-64 to age group 65-74), but it declines for the oldest age group (aged 75+). This decline for the oldest group is most notable in the Netherlands: a drop from 26.4% to 8.7%. Despite frailty common to people aged 75+, in the two Nordic countries, still around 12-13% of those aged 75+ were engaged in volunteering.
• With the exception of Italy, in all other countries, there is a greater volunteering activity among those who live with a partner as compared to single persons. There is a difference of close to 4 percentage points (p.p.) in these two groups in Germany, Denmark, France and the Netherlands.
• Educational attainment appears to predict strongly the varying level of volunteering activities across groups. The volunteering activity is close to 5 p.p. higher for someone with a medium education in comparison to one with a low education. And, there is another 7-8 p.p. difference between the highest educational group and the medium education group. The gradient across the education groups, especially between the last two groups, is very steep in Denmark, France, Sweden and the Netherlands, so much so that close to one-in-four (on average) in the highest education group in these countries have undertaken a volunteering activity.
• In most countries, volunteering activity is higher among employed persons than among the retired, although the differences between the two groups are moderate in Germany, Greece and Sweden (close to 2 p.p. lower among retirees than among those who are engaged in paid work), but considerable in Austria and Italy (up to 5 p.p. lower). The reverse is true for France, where retirees are more often involved in the volunteering work. In the Netherlands and Denmark, an exceptionally high proportion (20.4% and 23.1%, respectively) report volunteering activity in the group ‘other non-employed’.4
• There is much higher volunteering on offer by those who report their current health status as ‘good or better’ (about 6% in most cases). The variation across health status groups is most notable in the Netherlands and less pronounced in Germany and Sweden.

Table 5: Participation in voluntary work (including charity work) of those aged 50 and over (%), by gender and age, and by marital, education, employment and health status

Source: Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE)
Notes: ‘low education’ (pre-primary, primary or lower secondary education), ‘medium education’ (secondary or post-secondary education), ‘high education’ (first and second stage of tertiary education)
Figures in bold and bold italics indicate highest and lowest values for each activity.

4. Labour market engagement in older age

4.1 Employment propensity by age
The evidence on the labour market engagement of older workers is drawn from the European Labour Force Survey (LFS). Table A.1 (Annex A) reports on the proportion of those employed, unemployed and inactive, subdivided across age groups 25-54, 55-64 and 65-74. As expected, the proportion of those employed is high among younger age group and it falls considerably in the age groups 55-64 and 65-74. This evidence from the LFS confirms the picture drawn from the HETUS about the decline of the paid work activity beyond the age of 55 in most EU countries. The difference between the age groups 25-54 and 55-64 ranges from over 40 p.p. in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Austria, Poland and Slovenia to around 15 p.p. in Sweden.
On average, only around 46% of those in the age group 55-64 were employed in 2010 and in some of Central and Eastern European countries this proportion is significantly lower (e.g. Poland 34%; Hungary 34.4%; Slovenia 35%); also in Malta 30.2% (see Figure 2). Among the EU15 bloc of countries, Belgium, France, Italy and Luxembourg record lower employment rates for this age group (55-64). These employment rates were far below the 2001 Stockholm target in which EU member States aimed towards ensuring that half of those in the age group 55-64 will be in employment by 2010. Still, employment rates for those aged 55-64 did increase over the past decade in these countries, particularly for women (see below for more discussion on trends in labour market engagement of older workers in EU member States).
In contrast, the employment rate in the age group 55-64 is considerably higher in Sweden (70.5%), and this could be linked to the Swedish public pension design. It has been thoroughly reshaped during the 1990s – the reformed notional defined contribution system has incorporated the need for a longer working life, and the labour market, as a whole, is also characterised by employers’ good practices to encourage continued employment of older workers. By enabling postponement of retirement without upper age limits the system makes it possible to combine work and pension receipt by receiving 25, 50 or 75 % of the full pension (see ‘Pensions at a Glance’, OECD, 2011). This raises the question of hours worked by those in this age group and of progressive retirement – an issue addressed below by analysing number of hours worked by employed people in the age group 55-64.

Figure 2: Employment rate by age groups (%) across EU countries, LFS 2010

The employment propensity of those in the age group 65-74 is of special interest as it points to contexts in which a formal engagement with the labour market of older workers can be high. This, so-called ‘fourth pillar’ provides a necessary complement to income for many older people to avoid poverty in old age. The financial aspect is however not the only factor driving paid employment after age of retirement, as workers with higher income are over-represented among post-retirement workers (Giarini 2009). A formal engagement with the labour market after retirement also serves as a possible means to remain actively included in other social and civic engagements after retirement.
Results presented in Figure 2 also show that the propensity to be employed in the age group 65-74 is highest in Portugal and Romania: around 22% of workers in this age group are employed, although these workers are mostly employed in agriculture and in subsistence farming. Cyprus and Estonia are other countries with high propensity of employment for this age group – around 16%. This may be because of inadequate levels of pension income entitlements and social welfare payments and thus employment in late ages is means to additional income after retirement. Denmark and Sweden and (possibly) Ireland and the UK, which also report relatively high employment rate for workers aged 65-74, point to contexts in which bonus incentives in the public pension system to delay retirement are high.

4.2 Gender differences
Are these patterns different between men and women? This question is addressed in the next set of results, presented in Table A.2. Results for women across age groups are also presented in Figure 3. As is well known, the employment rate for men is higher in all age groups, particularly in older age groups. As is shown in Figure 3, the employment rates for younger age groups of women (25-54) hover around 70% (on average), but the employment rate for older female workers (age group 55-64) is uncomfortably low in many countries – on average, only around 39% of all women were in employment in 2010. This percentage is remarkably low in Malta (13%), but also in Poland (24.2%), Slovenia (24.5%) and Italy (26.2%).

Figure 3: Proportion of women employed by age groups (%), 2010

Focussing on gender differences, Latvia and Estonia are the only two countries where women are more likely to be employed than men in the age group 55-64. The Scandinavian countries, as well as the UK, exhibit not-too-divergent employment rates among men and women in the same age group.
Where employment rate is higher in the age group 65-74, it is mainly the male phenomenon. An example is that in Italy and Malta the employment rate for men aged 65-74 is more than three-times as high as it is observed for women. This could entirely be a cohort phenomenon in which male-breadwinner model has been dominant – it can therefore be expected that in the future women in this age group will also have higher employment rates.

4.3 Differences in tendencies to be full-time employed
Restricting to those employed, and observing what proportion of people are employed as full-time, it is clear that in most countries the proportion full-time employed remains high even among the older age groups (for detailed results, see Table A.3 in Annex A).
As shown in Figure 4 below, on average, a strikingly high proportion (89%) of men self-define themselves to be working full-time employed in the age group 55-64, and this proportion for men is only 53.6% for the subsequent age group (65-74). As can be expected, the corresponding full-time employment propensities are lower for women, 63% and 38% respectively, although the differences between the two older age groups is considerably less for women (24 p.p.) than that for men (35 p.p.).

Figure 4: Proportion full-time among the employed, by age groups (%), EU27 average during 2010

In the Netherlands, the work at later stages of women’s career is almost exclusively part-time work, and similar tendencies can be found in Germany and Ireland. In contrast, in the majority of Central and Eastern European countries, there is a high tendency of full-time employment, for younger and older workers, with the exception in some countries but only for age group 65-74 (namely: Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland).
Since the self-defined indicator of full-time work may correspond to varying levels of hours worked in different countries, it is useful to supplement these results with the analysis of  patterns of working hours. These results are included in Table A.4 for all age groups,5 and exhibited in Figure 5 for the age group 55-64 only.
Consistent with the full-time/part-time distinction, there is a high tendency in the Central and Eastern European countries for people aged 55-64 to work in excess of 35 hours per week: more than 80% all those employed work 35 hours or more in a week. For the same age group, only 50% report 35+ hours per week in the Netherlands, and about two-third in the UK, Ireland and Belgium.

Figure 5: Patterns of working hours for employed people, aged 55-64, 2010

These findings point to implications that the policy agenda that needs to be followed is one of “flexible later retirement”. There is a need for additional incentives in the system to enable people to work part-time without losing their entitlement to pension benefits. Such policy incentives would encourage older workers to avoid the phenomenon of a “cliff-edge” fall from full-time work directly into retirement that many of them often face.

3 Volunteer work, here, is defined as “unpaid work provided to parties to whom the worker owes no contractual, familial or friendship obligations” (Wilson and Musick 1997: 694).
4 The category ´other non-employed´ includes unemployed, homemaker, and those permanently sick or disabled.

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