Working Better with Age and Fighting Unequal Ageing in the United States


Introductory Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday 24 January 2018

(As prepared for delivery) 



Ladies and Gentlemen,


I am delighted to present a new OECD study on a crucial issue: “Working Better with Age and Fighting Unequal Ageing in the United States”. I would like to thank the AARP for their support and for their continued partnership with the OECD on ageing issues. Jo Ann Jenkins, in particular, is a great friend of the OECD and an active participant in our annual OECD Forum. It’s great to see her here in Davos.


The United States’ population is ageing

The United States is growing older. In 2015, there were around 25 people who were older than 65 years per 100 people of working-age. In 2050, there will be 40. 


But the good news is that in the United States, employment rates for older people are relatively high compared to other OECD countries, standing at 62% among 55-64 year olds, against 59% on average in the OECD.


But if we look beyond the national averages we find that employment rates at old age are in fact much lower among some population groups. This is not inclusive and it increases the poverty risk for older people.

Averages hide large disparaties and inequalities

When you look more closely, you find that retiring early remains widespread among American workers from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds, often as soon as Social Security benefits become available at age 62. These provisions are set at relatively low levels compared to other countries.


And poverty among older persons is a challenge: in the United States, more than 20% of people aged over 65 have incomes under the relative poverty line – compared to less than 13% on average in OECD countries today. Poverty levels for the over 75s are more than twice those of the working population.


More needs to be done to promote greater inclusiveness at old age and foster better, longer working lives for all in the United States. Let me share with you some of the findings from the report on promoting longer careers and reducing old-age poverty.


Promoting longer careers and reducing old-age poverty

First, linking the early and normal retirement ages to life expectancy can help maintain the level of retirement income in a financially sustainable way. However, automatic links can have regressive effects, if differences in life expectancy across socio-economic groups increase. These possible distributional effects should be taken into account in the design of inclusive policies. The US stands to gain from increasing the Supplemental Security Income level to help reduce poverty for older people, while also increasing opportunities for more flexibility in work and retirement entry – for example teleworking, part-time work and combining work and pensions.


Second, it’s vital to enable well-informed choices between work and retirement. This means providing easily understandable information – especially to groups with poor financial literacy – on the consequences on pension entitlements of anticipating or postponing retirement.


Third, more needs to be done to promote access and improve retention in good jobs for older workers. With relatively little employment protection and no mandatory retirement age, US firms’ willingness to hire and retain older workers is key. This requires a mixture of carrots and sticks. The report recommends that anti-discrimination laws should be expanded to cover all workers in all firms, and they should be more easily enforceable for workers. However, more should also be done to support the business case for promoting longer and better working lives, including by encouraging research on the employment of older workers.


Last but not least, skills, skills, skills. Skilling, upskilling, reskilling throughout working life. This is the way. The OECD Survey on Adult Skills show that, while US older adults are among the most proficient in using ICT, US young adults are among the least proficient. Without action the United States will fall further behind other countries, which could harm the prospects of older workers in the future and reinforce inequalities. Equal opportunities must be given to workers to upgrade their skills. Particularly in their mid-to-late careers. This is essential to improve productivity and foster inclusive employment, especially in the context of the digital transformation.


Ladies and Gentlemen

The American feminist Betty Friedan once said that “Ageing is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength." To achieve inclusive growth, we must design, deliver and implement policies to create opportunities and draw on the strengths and the skills of older workers, for the benefit of all.


The OECD will continue to collaborate with its Members, including the United States, and with key actors like the AARP on this vital agenda for inclusive growth. Count on us! Thank you.




See also

Press Release: Supporting ageing workforce key to tackling furture US economic challenges

OECD work on Inclusive Growth

OECD Report: Preventing Ageing Unequally

OECD work with United States


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