Sweden, grappling with increasing longevity, is considering both raising the retirement age to 75 and a state education plan for people in their 50s.  Will the future see us leaving school at 18 to return for re-training when we’re 50?  No matter what the solution, current welfare expectations can no longer be met if the retirement age (and mindset) remains as it is.

If Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has his way, Swedes will be encouraged to re-train in later life so that they have the skills to change to work in a career more suitable to their age (should this be necessary given their former career obviously).  One practical way to achieve this is to make student loans more accessible to this age group.  Such steps would mean that Swedes would be equipped to work longer and will no longer be able to expect benefits at the tender age of 65.

The retirement age is being debated in the Swedish parliament ahead of an expected pension reform package next month.  Reinfeldt, who leads a centre-right government, has stated that half of today’s children in Sweden can expect to reach the age of 100 years, which means that there has to be a corresponding change in the way Swedes view their work life.  He commented in a radio interview:

“Sweden must as a society ask ourselves the question: are we ready to meet these changes? The changes are basically positive. But if we want good pensions and welfare then we need to start discussing what our work lives should look like,”

Euractiv.com reported the following (translating from Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter):

“It’s a very challenging idea. Our whole life is affected by the fact that we speak to a career counselor, make a decision, and then think we will work with the same things for the rest of our lives,” the prime minister stated.

“The left’s view is that when the work becomes too tough then it’s time for early retirement or some other kind of benefit. But I’d rather say when the work becomes too tough then I’ll get the right to work with something else,”

The left is critical of the proposal, stating that many ‘blue collar’ workers are unable to work into their 60’s and that it is unrealistic to expect people in their 50’s to go back to school and then re-join the workforce. 

It is interesting that in Sweden they actually have a compulsory retirement age of 67, and part of the reform is to consider raising this.  Currently, after the age of 67, a person’s employment can be terminated provided their employer gives them at least one month’s written notice.  In August last year the Court of Justice of the European Union upheld a decision that this is not age discriminatory.  The rule is in place so that employers’ avoid the performance management of older employees and to give young people more opportunities. 

I imagine that the existence of such a rule really adds to the ingrained expectation of retirement at that age in Sweden.  It will be interesting to see what the reformers come up with, and the decision in Sweden will be closely watched I’m sure by the many other European countries in the same position.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...