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How long until you retire? Across Europe, people’s working life is getting shorter



  • For the first time this century, the expected average duration of working life for Europeans has dropped.

  • The pandemic is partly to blame, according to the European Commission.

  • People are living longer and age-related costs are rising accordingly.

  • It’s a global problem which could affect developed and developing economies alike.


In Europe, people are living longer but spending fewer years working.

For the first time this century, the expected average duration of working life for Europeans has dropped. Data from 2020 shows that an average 15-year-old living in one of the 27 European Union member states (EU-27) is likely to spend 35.7 years working. That’s 0.2 years less than the average for the year before.

Meanwhile, the median age in the EU is on track to have increased by 4.5 years between 2019 and 2050, when it is forecast to reach 48.2 years. By then, there will likely be half a million people aged 100 and above in the EU-27.



Reasons and implications

One of the reasons cited by the European Commission (EC) for the drop in expected working life duration is the pandemic, which it says has disrupted employment opportunities and may even have led some people to withdraw from the labour force altogether.

“[Some] people who would have been available to work and would have sought employment, may have given up their search due to low return expectations,” according to the EC’s Eurostat report.

The combination of people living longer but working less raises the prospect of countries struggling with declining future tax revenues at a time when the cost of maintaining an ageing population (increased pension payouts; rising healthcare needs) is heading in the opposite direction.


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