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Workers aged 55+ keen to stay working full-time

Workers aged 55+ have strong feelings of job security and those who work full-time are not keen to reduce their hours. Workers in this age group are an important part of the workforce and will continue to have an increased presence in the labour force as their numbers grow and their participation rates increase. They are also doing well in the workplace, with few (1 in 10) experiencing harassment, discrimination, and bullying.

However, they are less involved in employer-funded study and training, which could restrict their opportunities and result in lower pay. The majority of workers aged 55+ did not perceive that they would lose their job in the next 12 months and half are in jobs with flexible hours. Workers in this age group are less likely to think their employers would allow them to change their full-time hours to part-time hours, although if full-time workers aged 55+ were given the option to work less and earn less, very few would be keen to take the option.

Why studying this age group is important

The ageing labour force in New Zealand is of interest to policy makers and economists because it highlights the changing labour force structure. Working longer in life changes how we live together as a society and how we function as an economy.

Currently it is estimated that 26 percent of New Zealand residents are aged 55+. The number of residents aged 55+ is projected to grow from 1.1 million in 2011, to 1.7 million in 2036, and 2.2 million in 2061. This reflects the general ageing of the population, as well as the decline in fertility rates and the increase in life expectancy. The increase of older workers in the population will also be evident in the workplace. The 55+ population participating in the labour force will also increase and is projected to grow from 485,600 in 2011 to 823,400 in 2036.

Workers aged 55+ are valuable to employers because they have a wealth of knowledge and experience. However, some workplaces can rely heavily on technology and may result in workers in this age group struggling to keep up with the changing workplace. This can lead to an underutilisation of the skills older workers bring to the labour market. Understanding the work/ life experience of workers aged 55+ will help policy makers and employers shape the future workforce by creating working environments that are favourable towards these workers.

More older workers in employment

The definition of older workers can vary. They are defined in this article as people in the workforce aged 55 years and above, because this captures workers who might be considering early retirement or other flexible job options as they approach retirement age. It also gives us more robust data for analysis.

Graph, Employed older workers by sex, seasonally adjusted, quarterly, March 1986 to June 2013.

People aged 55+ are increasing in the population, and are participating more in the workforce. Older workers have shown an increased labour force participation rate and employment rate since 1986, particularly among female workers over the last few years.

Part-time workers aged 55+ are more likely to be female

In the labour force, there are more men who work full-time than part-time and this pattern is also reflected in workers aged 55+. Female workers in this age group were more likely to take on part-time jobs as they either re-entered the workforce or chose part-time work due to family commitments. The number of female part-time workers aged 55+ was nearly double the number of male part-time workers aged 55+. However, when comparing full-time and part-time work, female workers aged 55+ were still more likely to be working full-time than part-time.

Graph, Full-time and part-time work, by sex and age group, December 2012 quarter.

Self-employment among workers aged 55+

Older workers also tend to be self-employed. Of the people in the workforce who state they are self-employed, a quarter were male workers aged 55+ and one in 10 were female workers aged 55+. The highest number of self-employed was in the 35–54 years age group.

Graph, Self-employed, by sex and age group, December 2012 quarter.

Number of qualified workers aged 55+ on the rise

Workers aged 55+ tend to have vocational or trades qualifications, or have no formal qualifications. However, the number of workers aged 55+ with bachelor and post-graduate degrees is on the rise. Despite fewer workers aged 55+ having bachelor and post-graduate degrees, a large proportion of this age group work in professional roles and managerial positions. This is an indicator of the value that their knowledge and experience can bring to a workplace, regardless of their level of formal qualification.

Graph, Highest qualification of workers aged 55+, by type of qualification, December 2012 quarter. Graph, Occupation of workers aged 55+, by type of occupation, December 2012 quarter.

One in 10 experience harassment, discrimination, and bullying

There is a concern that older workers may be discriminated against in the workplace. Discrimination against older workers can come in many forms, ranging from harassment and bullying to lower wages and unequal work opportunities.

When employees were asked if they had experienced harassment, discrimination, or bullying at work in the last 12 months, the majority of employees said they had not experienced it. Only 10 percent of older workers said they had experienced it. Although there was little variation between the age groups, older workers experienced less harassment, discrimination and bullying than the 35–54 age group but more than the 15–34 age group.

Graph, Experienced harassment, discrimination, or bullying at work in the last 12 months, by age group, December 2012 quarter.

Around a third of workers 55+ received training

Job training feeds into a worker’s learning and development, and provides opportunities for older workers to enhance their skills. Workers are then able to apply their new skills in the workforce and return an investment on training. About 30 percent of workers aged 55+ in New Zealand reported that they received training from employers in the last 12 months. Workers aged 55+ received 8 percentage points less training than workers aged 35–54 years, which was the group that received the highest amount of training.

Graph, Participated in employer funded study or training in the last 12 months, by age group, December 2012 quarter.

Hourly earnings for workers 55+

The highest proportion of employees, regardless of their age, earned between $14 and $15.99 per hour. This is just above the minimum wage of $13.75. Sixty-seven percent of workers aged 55+ earned between $14 and $31.99 per hour. This is in the lower and mid-range of hourly earnings bands. Three percent of older workers earned $60 or more per hour.

Graph, Hourly earnings of workers aged 55+, December 2012 quarter.  

Older workers have a sense of job security

Permanent employees were asked if they thought there was a chance of losing their jobs in the next 12 months for a reason beyond their control. The large majority of workers of all ages thought there was no more than a low chance of losing their jobs. However, workers aged 55+ were more likely than others to think there was at least a medium chance they would lose their jobs.

Graph, Perception of job loss, by age group, December 2012 quarter.

Most full-time workers aged 55+ prefer to remain full-time

As workers approach retirement age, they are more likely to consider flexible working options like part-time work, job sharing, and working fewer hours for less pay. This allows them to have increased leisure time while still being involved in the workforce, instead of having to choose full retirement. Half of workers aged 55+ say their employers offer flexible working hours, but only a quarter of full-time workers in this age group say that their employers would let them decrease their hours to less than 30 hours per week. Also, the majority of full-time workers aged 55+ do not want to work fewer hours and earn less. This was the same across all the age groups. However, there are more full-time workers aged 55+ who would choose to work less, and earn less, compared to the other age groups.

        Graph, Flexible hours available in main job, by age group, December 2012 quarter.              Graph, Work flexibility to work less than 30 hours, by age group, December 2012 quarter.


Graph, Choose to work less hours and earn less, by age group, December 2012 quarter.


Where the data on workers aged 55+ comes from

The statistics in this article came from from Statistics NZ’s Survey of Working Life, which was a supplement to the Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) in the December 2012 quarter. The Survey of Working Life collects information on people’s employment arrangements, employment conditions, and job satisfaction.

See Survey of Working Life – information releases.

For more information contact:

Ruth Naudé
Wellington: 04 931 4600

Published 22 October 2013