The Rising Age at Retirement in Industrial Countries

Gary Burtless

WP#2008-6

Abstract

In the half century after World War II labor force participation in the population past age 60 fell substantially in nearly all rich countries.  Declining participation rates became a matter of major concern when it became clear that population growth rates were slowing and the average age of citizens in most rich countries was rising.  A rapidly growing number of aged was living longer but spending a smaller number of years in the paid workforce.  This paper examines recent trends in retirement behavior in 21 rich countries.  It proposes three straightforward measures of labor force exit, and it estimates labor force exit rates using a variety of labor supply indicators, including the labor force participation rate, the employment rate, average work hours in the population, and average weekly earnings in the population.  The results suggest that in recent years exit rates from paid work are declining among older citizens.  This pattern is found both for men and women, and it is found in a large majority of countries in the analysis.  In many countries labor force participation rates at older ages reached a low point in the 1990s, but since that time participation rates have increased. The rebound in male participation rates has been substantial in several countries.  On average across the 21 countries, participation rates among 60-64 year-old men have rebounded over 9 percentage points since a low point in the participation rate was reached, usually in the 1990s.  This rise in the participation rate of 60-64 year-old men has offset almost one-quarter of the decline in participation rates that occurred between 1960 and the low point of participation rates.