I think this is no longer news, but the OECD held a press conference yesterday to inform us that we are all living longer, but we still aren’t working longer, and that somehow these two facts don’t fit with our existing pension arrangements. Well perhaps it isn’t exactly news, but it still needs to sink-in somewhere. So I guess this is why yesterday the OECD were drawing everyone’s attention to a new report they have prepared on the basis of 21 separate country reports compiled as part of a thematic review of policies to improve labour market prospects for older workers initiated in 2001. The whole thing will get icing and a cherry at what is being called a High-Level Policy Forum to be held next Tuesday (18 October) at Palais d’Egmont. More details on the reports and the accompanying older workers forum can be found here).
At present, many public policies and workplace practices discourage older people from carrying on working. On average in OECD countries, fewer than 60% of people aged between 50 and 64 have a job, compared with 75% of people in the 25-49 age group (see Chart 1).
Such policies and practices are relics of a bygone age and unsustainable at a time when population ageing is straining public finances and holding back higher living standards. If there is no change in work patterns, the ratio of older inactive persons per worker will almost double in the OECD area over the next decades, from around 38% in 2000 to just over 70% in 2050.
This, in turn, would lead to higher taxes and/or lower benefits, coupled with slower economic growth. On the basis of unchanged patterns, OECD analysis shows, GDP growth per capita in the OECD area could shrink to around 1.7 % per year over the next three decades, about 30% below the average annual rates witnessed between 1970 and 2000.
Incidentally, I think this figure for sustained *per capita* growth of 1.7% across the OECD over the next decades is extraordinarily optimistic. If you strip out some of the large economies where the ageing problems are considerably more moderate – US, UK, France – I juts can’t see how the rest are going to sustain any per capita increase at all. What they will be into is damage containment. Unfortunately, as we can see, they seem to be in no special hurry to get on with even this.