Levelling the playing field for over-50s in Europe

A Europe-wide project is aiming to improve the understanding and opportunities for the 50-plus workforce. DeeDee Doke reports

Older working women in the UK tend to work part-time in low-paid jobs without much job security.

In Poland, older women in the workplace are seen as emotional, unstable and talkative, and receive lower pay than men, although women are better educated.

And in Norway, older women tend to be employed in service, education, and health and social work, while their male counterparts are more often found in business, academic and manual work.

Differences such as these as well as more sharply defined national differences are emerging in the preliminary research findings of a two-year, UK-led project nearing completion that is intended to improve Europe’s work climate for the over-50s.

With the 2006 deadline approaching for ending age-related discrimination in employment within the European Union (EU), the 50+ Europe: Strategies to Overcome Barriers to Employment for the Over 50s project aims to promote that group’s profile and employability.

It is also intended to broaden HR and employers’ awareness of the benefits of hiring older people and to help develop age diversity strategies for recruitment and employment. In addition to the UK, the study partners are France, Norway, Poland and Spain. Each was selected to reflect different economic situations and cultures.

“I think we’ve been very ambitious,” says Jan Shepherd, the project’s co-ordinator, who is on the faculty of the University of Surrey’s School of Arts in the Centre for Research into the Older Workforce.

The study participants want to produce a work review, a management checklist, a comparative policy and a web site that will both support 50-plus jobseekers on one hand, and provide guidance to employers on the other.

A major challenge will be fitting each element into each country’s particular cultural context, Shepherd says. As an example, accessibility to online tools may vary between countries, she points out, “because some countries are less computer literate. You have to take into account how different people work, and that will depend on how computer literate they are.” 

The tools that emerge from the study also must take into account the different social and governmental conditions facing the over-50s in work-related issues and financial concerns in individual countries.

In the UK, for instance, the state pension amounted to 16 per cent of the national average earnings in 2003, with that figure expected to drop to 9 per cent in 2040. “It’s not easy to live on the basic state pension,” the reports’ UK findings note.

The situation for Polish pensioners is even bleaker. Study participants reported that older Poles face “great difficulties” living on state pensions, which are said to be “not even enough for basic needs or medicines”. In Norway, however, the state pension is deemed enough to live on, as it is in France, if retirees have worked 37.5 years, which entitles them to full pensions.

One common theme among most of the participating countries was the anticipated change upward in retirement age, although Spain is said to be considering the most radical change: an increase from the current 65 to 75 years old.

Seventy-five per cent of the 473,000 euro (about £328,335) project cost was financed by the EU’s Leonardo da Vinci vocational training programme, with the rest made up by the participating countries.

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