Time’s Up!: Seniors caught in retirement squeeze

Many senior citizens forced into retirement can’t afford to stop working and increasingly end up in low-level jobs, say York professors Tom Klassen and Norene Pupo.

The two have collaborated, along with a group of experts, on a new book entitled Time’s Up! Mandatory Retirement in Canada, which delves into the complexities surrounding the controversial policy of forcing workers to retire at an arbitrary age. 

 Noreen Pupo

 Tom Klassen

Right: from left, Norene Pupo and Tom Klassen

“Unfortunately, for much of the working poor – particularly women – retirement is not an option,” says Pupo, professor of sociology with York’s Faculty of Arts and director of the Centre for Research on Work and Society at York. “They need to continue earning income and are often forced into the most marginalized types of employment, typically jobs in the service sector, characterized by low pay, poor working conditions and lack of benefits.”

According to statistics, 44.2 percent of Canadian women over the age of 65 worked part-time jobs in the retail sector in 2003 – contrasted with 17.5 per cent of men.

Time's UpCurrent employment statistics point to a growing trend among Canadian workers to take on non-standard employment – part time work, self employment, or simply “odd jobs” – after retirement.

“Unfortunately, what we see happening is a greying of the elite,” says Pupo. “Those in the upper echelons don’t seem to be subject to these rules. Politicians and CEOs are two good examples. They tend to choose when they will retire and quite often continue working part-time in their retirement not out of financial necessity but for other, personal reasons.”

Klassen, a professor in York’s Department of Political Science, Faculty of Arts, says proponents of mandatory retirement often cite unemployment rates, the prospect of employee turnover and the need to open up jobs for new grads or youth.

“There’s this perception that older workers are ‘taking jobs away’ from other groups,” Klassen says. “Essentially, that’s the same argument that was made about women joining the workforce – that they were ‘taking jobs away’ from men. Fundamentally, this is a human rights issue.”

Klassen and Pupo both agree that a shift in attitudes towards retirement is slowly taking place and that Canada will soon catch up with countries like Australia, New Zealand and the US, which have largely banned compulsory retirement. In the US, mandatory retirement before age 70 was prohibited in 1978 and then banned altogether in 1986.

“It’s gradually becoming socially accepted that mandatory retirement is not something that benefits individuals or employers,” Klassen says. “Aging baby boomers are really going to force a large social shift in the way we see work.”

Time’s Up! Mandatory Retirement in Canada features contributions from eminent researchers in economics, business, politics and sociology, including chapters co-written by both Klassen and Pupo. Klassen is a co-editor of the volume.