A third of Swiss workers are over the age of 50

The baby boomer generation has boosted the share of older workers in the Swiss workforce. © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

One in three Swiss workers were over the age of 50 in 2020, according to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO). The unemployment rate for people in the 50-64 age bracket is lower than those between 25 and 49.

This content was published on October 28, 2021 minutes

In 2020, 1.65 million employees aged 50 or older lived in Switzerland, representing 33.5% of the total working population, according to an annual survey by the statistics office. In 1991, only one in four Swiss workers (24%) was in the labour market.

FSO says the aging of the workforce is connected with predominance of the baby boomer generation, people born between 1945 and 1964.

Last year, 81.4% of the population aged 50 to 64 were professionally active, compared with 70.9% in 1991. This increase is attributed largely to a heightened activity rate of women.

In the European context, Switzerland was last year among the few countries in which more than eight out of ten people between the ages of 50 and 64 were professionally active. The other countries were Sweden (86%), Iceland (83%), and Estonia (81.3%). The EU average is 70.3%.

The past two decades also show a slight drop in the number of people working in Switzerland beyond their 65th birthday. In 2020, 17% of people in the 65 to 74 age group were professionally active, compared to 19.7% in 1991.

Part-time work is on the rise for 50 to 64-year-olds. In 2020, 40.3% of those in this age group worked part-time, compared with 35.2% of those between the ages of 25 and 49.

A few sectors stand out for their high share of workers over the age of 50. Older workers are overrepresented in transportation and warehouse jobs (37% of those employed) and public administration roles (34.5%), for example.

Older people are almost twice as likely to work independently compared to their younger cohorts (18.1% vs. 9.5%) and are also more likely to work on weekends (20.6% vs. 16.1). They also tend to have 3.5 more vacation days per year compared to other age groups, according to the same source.

Unemployment and retirement trends

In 2020, the unemployment rate for those aged 50 to 64 was slightly lower when compared to that of workers between the ages of 25 and 49 (4% compared to 4.7%). A gender difference was also noted, with a lower rate of unemployment for women compared to men (3.5% and 4.3% respectively).

Among unemployed 50 to 64-year-olds, just under half (48.9%) had been looking for a job for more than a year.

About one in three (32.7%) had been doing the same in the 25-49 age bracket. In an international comparison, Switzerland was roughly in the middle of the pack in terms of the unemployment rate for people aged 50 to 64.

In 2020, the average age of leaving the labor market stood at 65.2 (for men 65.6 and women 64.9). Self-employed people retired from the labour force much later than those who worked as employees (67.5 versus 64.9 years). About 4.8% of men and 4.2% of women workers opt for early retirement.

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