Non working Seniors in France

Caroline Baker

22nd June 2010

Alongside the Roland Garros tennis tournament and the preparations of ‘Les Bleus’ for the cup final in South Africa the third subject which is currently attracting a great deal of media attention in France is the reform of the state pension system.

As in every other European country, the retirement of the baby boom generation is placing extra strain on a system which is already deeply in the red.

The legal age of retirement in France is still (at time of writing !) 60 for women and 65 for men, but there are variations between the public and private sectors and from one branch to another.

People working in certain public sector activities, considered ‘penibles’ (difficult or stressful) have the right to early retirement: these include bus and train drivers, firemen, the police, air trafic controllers…

…and until the late 1990s private sector industries also operated a policy of ‘assisted departure’ for employees aged 50+.

As a result France has one of the lowest levels of ‘senior’employment of any country in Europe : only 58,4% of 55-59 year olds are employed in France (compared to 71,2% in Germany and 77%+ in Scandinavian countries) and the situation is even more acute among 60-64 year olds : only 17,5% are employed in France, compared to 44,2% in the UK, 39,8% in Germany and 61% in Sweden. (all statistics for 2009, from Eurostat)

It’s a moot point to decide whether the non working situation of the 55+s in France is voluntary or imposed. For a number of employees in the public sector it is almost certainly volontary : they had the right to retire at 50 so they did, and are now enjoying their leisure or have recycled themselves as ‘auto-entrepreneurs’, a new status which allows them to work independently without losing their pension rights.

In the private sector unemployment is more likely to have been imposed : sometimes facilitated by a golden handshake, more often forced by factory closures and redundancies.

And finding a new job is tough because in most areas being older is a disadvantage, to such an extent that companies are increasingly accused of ‘ageism’ alongside racism and sexism.

In the search for solutions the period during which the over 50s have the right to unemployment benefits was extended from 24 months to 36 months, and after the age of 57 a special dispensation means they no longer have to be ‘actively seeking employment’ in order to qualify for benefits.

What all this means from a market research point of view is that French people in the 55-65 age band are a heterogenous lot, not altogether comparable to their contemporaries in other European countries. At best they have more money AND more leisure to enjoy it, at worst they are permanently excluded from the workforce because too old but not old enough to be entitled to a pension.


Added at 11:02am on Friday 16th July 2010

An old (sorry, longstanding - he's aged c. 50!) French entrepreneur friend who started and runs a manufacturing business near Pau summarised it well for me: "The French just don't like work".

This also explains why French tradesmen promise to quote or turn up, and then don't; or promise to complete a job by a certain date but then overrun (at the same time as having lovely/jolly lunches at home or with friends!).

I should add that I'm a Francophile - heaven knows what a Francosceptic would make of all this. :-) Anybody like to comment?

Martin Holliss

Leaving a comment

If you're an ICG Member, you can comment on this blog entry. Log in to the site, then you'll be offered a form to allow you to enter your comment while viewing each blog...

Tweet this!