Creating More Age-Friendly Jobs

Professor Andrew Scott’s NBER working paper cited

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Writing for Canada’s The Globe and Mail, journalist Linda Nazarath’s, In this brave new age, we need to think more about age-friendly jobs, observes that Canada’s population and work force are getting older.

“According to the 2021 census, more than a fifth (22 per cent) were aged between 55 and 64 – an all-time high,” says Nazarath.

“If at one time those older workers were looking forward to gold watches, pensions and rounds of golf, those days are gone. Whether it is to keep themselves active or to make up for the inflation-eroded value of their portfolios, many are not looking to retire early, or perhaps at all.”

Moving forward, the work force will only get older and there are legitimate reasons to keep employees earning – for their financial well-being, but also because many industries will continue to need their contributions. In realistic terms, people look for different kinds of jobs as they age, with those that are less physically taxing and more flexible presumably the most in demand. Are jobs age-friendly enough to keep older workers interested asks Nazarath?

In a September working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), economists Andrew J Scott, Daron Acemoglu, and Nicolaj Sondergaard Muhlbach set out to discover whether that has been the case in the U.S. over the past few decades. To do so, they constructed an ‘Age-Friendly Job Index’ that looked at the occupational characteristics of 873 jobs in terms of their attractiveness to older workers.

Examining each job for a host of characteristics including flexibility, telecommuting, physical job demands, pace of work, autonomy at work and paid time off, the NBER study came to the conclusion that over the past three decades, work in general has indeed become more age-friendly. That varied a bit by industry, with jobs in the finance and retail industries being the most age-friendly and including occupations such as insurance adjusters, financial managers and proofreaders. The least age-friendly jobs tended to be in manufacturing, agricultural and construction and involve a physical component of work.

Overall, it appears to be good news for those older workers who wanted to keep working – except that the researchers found that while the number of age-friendly jobs had risen, those jobs were not necessarily being done by older workers. Instead, they found that the jobs were disproportionately filled by women and college graduates.

This is not particularly surprising, given that the attributes that are deemed to make a job friendly to an older worker, such as the ability to telecommute, are also favourable to many other workers as well. Although the study does not quantify whether downright ageism was causing older workers to lose out on age-friendly jobs to younger ones, it did note that employers tend to prefer “high-productivity workers” and that, rightly or wrongly, younger college graduates were viewed as being in that category.

Looking to Canada’s future of work, writes Nazarath, a few conclusions can be reached. The first is the fact that jobs in general are getting more age-friendly is positive since it suggests that such jobs are getting better. Indeed, as well as their other positive characteristics, the NBER study found that the age-friendly jobs were the ones that paid the best and were also the ones where wages were rising the most quickly.