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[Opinion] Productivity of the Elderly

Posted August. 15, 2005 03:05,   


In Korea, the retirement age of workers has been going down to the extent that “Saojeong,” a Korean expression which means 45 years old is the age limit, has been widely used. In the United States and European countries, in contrast, elderly employment seems to be on the rise. Since 1995, 22 percent of newly hired workers in the United States are over 55. Among American males aged between 65 and 69, the percentage of “those on the payroll” rose from 27 percent in 1994 to 33 percent in 2004. For bookstore chain Borders Group, those aged 50 years and above accounted for only 6 percent of its entire employees back in 1999, but now they are taking up a whopping 16 percent of the total share. One supermarket group in the United Kingdom announced that it will hire 10,000 workers aged over 50.

These businesses are not hiring more senior citizens in an effort to support their nations’ welfare policies. They are doing so because the elderly do not fall behind the young in terms of labor productivity. This is a conclusion made after thorough verifications. People over 50, of course, are lagging behind the young generation in fields where brilliant ideas and strong drives are crucial. Meanwhile, they outperform young workers in fields that require composed judgments and caution.

Elderly workers also have another advantage. Their turnover and absenteeism rates are extremely low. In Borders Group, an American enterprise with 32,000 employees, those over 50 have one tenth the level of the turnover rate for workers under 30. In terms of customer service and stability of operation, elderly workers are much better than frequently changing employees. As senior citizens have full of working experience, it takes less costs and time in training them for work.

Elderly employment is relatively vigorous in Korea, as well. Statistics show that this year, 85 percent of newly hired workers were in the fifties or sixties. This can be interpreted that retirees, who were laid off from their previous workplaces altogether, enthusiastically found new jobs, lowering their expectations on salaries and working conditions. For enterprises, these workers are less burdensome than young jobseekers preferring “reliable jobs.” As the aging of society accelerates, more jobs for the elderly are needed. This, however, does not mean that job opportunities for the young generation can be curtailed, which is why the issue of employment is an enormous challenge in every aspect.

Hong Chan-shik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com