News & Events

Working at age 55 and over is on the rise in Ireland

Ireland’s workforce is getting older.

The proportion of the workforce aged 55 and over grew from 10 per cent in 1998 to almost 20 per cent in 2018. This is forecast to rise further.

These results are from a new study carried out on behalf of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and launched by Pat Breen, TD, Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection today (1 October 2019).

The self-employed are the group most likely to work longer. Amongst employees, those in public administration and ‘other administrative’ sectors are most likely to work for longer. These sectors typically provide non-manual jobs and security of tenure. Across workers of all ages, those who have poor work-life balance, those whose health and safety is at risk because of their job and those in more physically demanding work are all much more pessimistic about their ability to work in their current or similar job until they are 60 years old.

Why do people leave the work force early?

Almost one in five of those who left employment between the ages of 55 and 59 did so because of illness and disability. A similar proportion left because of job loss, while 7 per cent left for reasons of family care. Just over 50 per cent cited ‘retirement’ or ‘early retirement’ as the reason for leaving. The authors explore differences among early leavers, finding occupational and sectoral differences between those who retire early and those who leave for non-retirement reasons such as illness, care responsibilities and job loss.

  • Leavers who previously held manual jobs are more likely to leave due to non-retirement reasons, compared to managers/professionals.
  • Workers in the construction sector and the retail sector, are more likely to leave for non-retirement reasons, when compared to those in the industry sector.
  • Early leavers from the public sector are more likely to cite retirement reasons.
  • Women are five times more likely to have left early for care reasons than men.

Are workplaces safe for older workers?

Older workers are less likely to experience a workplace injury than younger workers, but more likely to experience a workplace fatality. Older worker fatalities cannot be explained by differences in sector. Workers aged 55 to 64 are almost two times more likely to experience a fatality than workers under 55. Workers over 65 are three and a half times more likely to experience a fatality than workers under 55. However, the absolute risk of death remains very small.

Overall, working conditions for older workers compare favourably to working conditions for younger workers. However, those who experienced poorer working conditions may already have left the labour market. Therefore, improving working conditions to make working longer possible is relevant for workers of all ages.

Policy implications

The higher risk of fatal injury among older workers within sectors is of concern and suggests a need to target information and safety interventions in the high-risk sectors, particularly agriculture.

Involuntary job loss remains a significant factor in early exits, as do exits due to illness/disability and caring. This suggests that a multi-pronged policy response is necessary, including part-time hours and flexible work options, access to training/lifelong learning opportunities, organisational strategies to accommodate those with illness/disability and to rehabilitate those re-entering following an absence.

Dr Ivan Privalko, ESRI, an author of the report, commented, “While the retention of workers aged over 60 in Ireland is higher than the OECD average, there is considerable scope to increase participation further. However, simply raising the minimum retirement age will not build sustainable jobs. Policies that take account of the variety of push and pull factors leading to early exits from the workplace, including the provision of safe working conditions, is critical to support longer working lives.”

Urging Irish businesses to embrace the value of older workers Minister Breen said: “An ageing workforce isn't a burden, it's an opportunity. Experience is a critical asset right now, and one that older workers have accumulated over the course of their careers. Businesses are going to struggle if they don’t embrace older workers and make better efforts to retain and retrain them. This report offers valuable insights to assist policy developments that will support all business sectors in fully utilising an ageing workforce. Increasing the participation of older workers in the labour market is a key ambition of the Government’s Future Jobs Ireland initiative and is essential for continued economic growth while also having a positive impact on workers themselves and on the economic and lifestyle choices available to them."

Dr Sharon McGuinness, Chief Executive Officer of the HSA, commented on the ageing profile of the Irish workforce and the implications for employers. “This new report from the ESRI shows that with older workers making up almost 20% of the total Irish workforce, there are real implications for all employers. Older workers are more likely to suffer a fatal injury, and this is the case regardless of the sector in which the worker is employed. In fact, workers aged 55-64 are almost twice as likely to experience a fatality compared to their younger counterparts and those aged 65 and over are three and a half times more likely. Although fatal incidents in most industry sectors are relatively rare, injuries and illness are not and I urge all employers to implement tailored safety and health policies designed with the unique requirements of older workers in mind.”