Ireland's workforce is getting older

Reasons for leaving early include illness, caring
  • Deborah Condon

Women in Ireland are five times more likely than men to leave the workforce early for care reasons, a new study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found.

According to the findings, Ireland's workforce is getting older. The proportion of the workforce aged over 55 increased from 10% in 1998 to almost 20% in 2018 and this is expected to rise more in the future.

However, across workers of all ages, those who have poor work-life balance, those in more physically demanding jobs and those whose health and safety is at risk because of their job, are all much more pessimistic about their ability to work in their current job until they are 60 years old.

The study found a number of reasons why people leave the work force early. Among people who left work between the ages of 55 and 59, almost 20% did so because of illness and disability.

A similar proportion lost their jobs, while 7% left due to family care reasons. However, women were five times more likely than men to leave early because of care reasons.

Just over 50% left due to retirement or early retirement.

Overall, early leavers who had worked manual jobs were more likely to leave as a result of non-retirement reasons compared to professionals and managers. Early leavers from the public sector were more likely to leave for retirement reasons.

Meanwhile, the study also found that while older workers are less likely to experience a workplace injury compared to younger workers, they were more likely to experience a workplace fatality and this could not be explained by differences in sector.

Workers aged between 55 and 64 were almost two times more likely to experience a fatality compared to workers under the age of 55, while workers over 65 were three-and-a-half times more likely to experience a fatality than workers under the age of 55.

However, the researchers emphasised that the absolute risk of death in the workplace remains very small.

Nevertheless, the higher risk of fatal injury among older workers is a cause for concern and suggests that more information and interventions are needed in high-risk sectors, especially agriculture, they said.

They also called for a better response to people who have to leave work early due to illness, disability and caring. They suggested a range of measures that could help, such as the option of part-time hours, access to training and organisational strategies aimed at helping those who have to return to work following an illness.

"While the retention of workers aged over 60 in Ireland is higher than the OECD average, there is considerable scope to increase participation further. However, simply raising the minimum retirement age will not build sustainable jobs.

"Policies that take account of the variety of push and pull factors leading to early exits from the workplace, including the provision of safe working conditions, is critical to support longer working lives," commented one of the study's authors, Dr Ivan Privalko of the ESRI.

The study was carried out on behalf of the Health and Safety Authority.


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