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OECD data show less employment for older French folks

Assessing joie de vivre on Bastille Day

Part of the “My favorite FRED graph” guest post series.

It’s July 14th, Bastille Day! So the FRED Blog focuses on France, where the retirement age was a central issue in their recent elections.

France’s legal retirement age is 62, conditional on time worked. President Emmanuel Macron, who was re-elected in April, prefers raising it to 65. Jean-Luc Mélenchon campaigned on lowering it to 60 as part of the leftist coalition policy proposal. That political debate didn’t include a great deal of data, so we provide some here, including international comparisons.

The FRED graph above uses OECD data to display employment rates—that is, the employed as a fraction of the relevant population. In this case, the population is men 55 to 64 years old in France, Spain, Italy, the U.S., Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Why only men? The differences in women’s employment rates are driven more by cultural factors, and working women aren’t the norm everywhere and in every generation.

Although France’s employment rate for men 55 to 64 is increasing, it is the lowest in this group. Some may see this as a lost opportunity to contribute to economic activity; others may see opportunities for spending free time on non-market activities that improve well-being. Opinions diverge on why many in this age category don’t manage to find work. Previous reforms postponing the retirement age have contributed to increasing employment in this age category, but could also have pushed the least-qualified workers further into poverty.

A compromise could be found in improving working conditions for seniors to extend their labor force participation while also maintaining good health for all. Sweden has consistently had an employment rate at the top of the field, so maybe they can show us that older workers and quality of life aren’t incompatible.

How this graph was created: Search FRED for “Employment Rate Aged 55-64 Males for France.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add Line” tab to successively search for and add the other series. Use the “Format” tab to thicken the French line.

Suggested by Guillaume Gaulier.

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