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Procedure : 2011/2091(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0291/2011

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Debates :

PV 12/09/2011 - 28
CRE 12/09/2011 - 28

Votes :

PV 13/09/2011 - 5.18
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :


Monday, 12 September 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

28. Situation of women approaching retirement age (short presentation)
Video of the speeches

  President. – The next item is the report by Edit Bauer, on behalf of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, on the situation of women approaching retirement age (2011/2091(INI)) (A7-0291/2011).


  Edit Bauer, rapporteur. − (HU) Madam President, have you noticed that we almost never see presenters over the age of 50 on our television screens? And if we do, it is more than likely to be a man. Have you ever noticed that there are far fewer women in their 50s than men in the workplace? The statistics show that 55% of men in their 50s are engaged in the labour market, compared with only 37% of women of the same age. Statistics on this age group are thin on the ground, and most of the available data you will find if you look on the Internet, for example, are American or Australian. European data are harder to find. Meanwhile, governments and parliaments are taking steps to increase the retirement age – I just heard today about British government plans relating to this. If you analyse the evidence, however, it shows that people are leaving the world of work much earlier.

One of the goals set out in the Europe 2020 strategy is to raise employment levels for both men and women to 75%. This begs the question: what can we do, and what must we do to prevent people from leaving the labour market prematurely? Of course, to be able to answer this question we also need to know the reasons why people are leaving early. There may be many reasons why women leave the world of work earlier than men. Let us look at a few examples. In many career paths, women face discrimination. Indeed, the discrimination they face is often not straightforward, but complex. The absence of older women from our TV screens can be put down to age-related discrimination, or ‘ageism’. And this of course is not the only field where ageism is blatantly in evidence.

Often it is social necessity that drives women out of the labour market, or it may be a voluntary response to a situation in which a family member needs looking after. Other reasons include illnesses, some of which could be avoided given adequate preventive health care. Think, for example, of breast cancer or osteoporosis. The working environment, conditions in the workplace, occupational health and safety, all of these of course fall into the same category. Designating 2012 as the European Year of Active Ageing opens the way for action aimed at improving this situation. The consequences of the current situation of women over 50 are undeniably serious: the gender pay gap is widest at this time in women’s working lives; the discrepancy between men’s and women’s pay is at its peak in this age group.

This, along with more frequent career interruptions, a higher incidence of part-time work and slower career progression all result in much lower average pensions for women. The number of older women at risk of poverty is therefore disproportionately high. The aim of this report is clear: to set out steps to improve this situation – not only to tackle discrimination, although this too is a real problem. Indeed, when questioned, a majority responded that age-related discrimination is very real, based on their own experience. The report sets out other lessons too: prevention costs less than tackling the consequences, and this is equally true in the labour market.

One of the most important conclusions is that the long-awaited white paper on pension reform must take account of the issues that are specific to women’s lives. Any period or periods spent raising children or caring for family members should not mean a loss of social security entitlements. Both of these care-giving activities are likely to become increasingly important in society with time and demographic changes. Unless we create appropriate employment opportunities and social conditions more generally, we stand no chance of fulfilling the Europe 2020 strategy targets relating to employment or combating poverty.


  Christa Klaß (PPE).(DE) Madam President, I welcome Ms Bauer’s report. It describes the situation in very specific terms: ongoing demographic change continues to bring with it a dramatic deterioration in the situation of older women. Older women are more likely to suffer poverty. Women have a shorter professional career, which is interrupted by the need to bring up children and care for relatives. On average they also earn less than men. Unemployment is higher among women than men and women are four times more likely to be employed on a part-time basis. They certainly work for a living, but do not always receive payment in return. Low income levels among women also impact on their pension rights and increase the risk of poverty in old age.

However, the report also points to some positive aspects. Older people are an enormous source of cultural, social and professional enrichment. Their contribution to society is all too often ignored and their involvement is not sufficiently encouraged. The challenge to society is to respect people’s capabilities, to keep them in the labour market for longer and to ensure that they remain healthy, active and independent long after they have entered retirement.


  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE). - (SK) Madam President, economic competitiveness and prosperity in Europe increasingly depend on the effective use of the workforce. The unavoidable extension of working life must be done sensitively and together with the creation of decent age-appropriate working conditions and social security systems. In the name of solidarity between the generations, Member States should, in particular by means of regional and local authorities, create support programmes for women entrepreneurs in synergy with the active aging programmes that would directly involve experts from among the ranks of entrepreneurs currently at pre-retirement and retirement age in the creation of new jobs and opportunities. I would like to highlight the remarkable and praiseworthy work carried out by carers and nurses who, despite the often unfavourable legal framework and financial remuneration, assist the most vulnerable members of our society and the fight against the social exclusion of people with disabilities so as to enable them to lead a dignified life.


  Vasilica Viorica Dăncilă (S&D).(RO) Madam President, in a world of globalisation, intergenerational solidarity is important in terms of professional development of the younger generations, especially through tapping the potential offered by older people. The example and experience offered by older women is a valuable economic resource, providing a proper font of experience that can offer real support to the community. I think that any measures which help enhance equal opportunities policies must be encouraged so as to prevent, as far as possible, the prevalence of certain discriminatory attitudes towards women approaching retirement age.

I also believe that women need to be encouraged to resume their professional career after maternity leave and to retrain for a different career so as to avoid breaks in their promotion and career development path and having an inadequate pension at the end of their career.


  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Madam President, discrimination among older women is one of the major social problems we are facing, and it is one of the fundamental causes of poverty and social exclusion. These women have often been victims of low wages, of unemployment, and of part-time and precarious work, which is reflected in very low pensions, putting them in a position of great social vulnerability and at risk of poverty.

In a period of worsening unemployment, such as now, there should be a particular focus on the situation of women approaching retirement age. Firstly, the retirement age should not be raised, to ensure women are not discriminated against on the basis of parenthood and age. Secondly, women’s work should be promoted, equal pay should be enforced and the procedure for calculating pensions and benefits should be revised to ensure that ageing is a dignified process that is free from humiliation, discrimination or any form of violence towards older women. That also requires quality public services at affordable prices, particularly in the areas of health, social protection and decent housing.

We believe that the Commission should take account of these proposals as well as of some of those mentioned in the report.


  Monika Beňová Flašíková (S&D). - (SK) Madam President, this report focuses on women approaching pre-retirement age, the age between 55 and 64 years. It is alarming that in 21 Member States of the European Union the employment of women in pre-retirement age compared to the employment of males of the same age is up to 20% lower. The existence of such gender inequality against women nearing the end of their careers is a possible cause of a number of negative social impacts. Overcoming gender discrimination, particularly after the age of 50, should therefore be a priority for Member States with regard to the social and legal protection of their citizens so as not to weaken the role of women in the labour market. I therefore call on the Commission to ensure the establishment of rules for Member States which will help women remain in the labour market and which will also consistently modify social systems by eliminating gender discrimination, particularly in the area of pension systems.


  Katarína Neveďalová (S&D). - (SK) Madam President, the labour market is certainly one of the areas where there is discrimination against women. Women are not adequately guaranteed the right to work and the percentage of unemployed women in Europe is increasing. Young women entering the labour market and women at pre-retirement age who are pushed into part-time work are discriminated against most. Women over 50 are discriminated against most purely on account of their age, gender and health. However, let us not forget that older women provide a huge benefit to society. They take care of their families, children and grandchildren, and often take part in voluntary activities. Most European women have worked all their lives and it is unfair that they are denied this right, if they are not prevented from working by their health in old age, and if they have decades of experience. It is precisely for this growing population group that the risk of poverty and social exclusion is growing. I therefore urge the Commission, in the spirit of the upcoming Year for Active Aging, to take the necessary measures to keep them in the labour market, including the provision of social security, pensions and health care.


  Antigoni Papadopoulou (S&D).(EL) Madam President, it is a fact that elderly people aged between 55 and 64 are subject to ageism, to age discrimination. Women in particular experience this discrimination, as well as other forms of gender discrimination due to their sex, preconceived notions, poor health or disability. The fact that 2012 will be a year of active support is encouraging, because it provides a unique opportunity for further awareness-raising about the need to mainstream the gender and age dimension in all policies, in order to prevent social exclusion and any form of racism towards the elderly.

In an ageing Europe, we cannot afford to look on the ageing population as a social and economic burden. On the contrary, we have a duty to combat prejudice, to support active ageing with programmes and activities and to safeguard equal access for everyone to health care and long-term care.


  Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the Commission.(FR) Madam President, I should like to begin by thanking the MEPs, and in particular Ms Bauer, for drafting this report.

Equal economic independence for women and men is one of the priority areas of our Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015. We will achieve the objective of a 75% employment rate for women and men only if we adopt national policies aimed specifically at increasing women’s participation in the labour market and reducing the disparities between women and men, particularly among women over 50.

The Commission fully appreciates that women approaching retirement age find themselves in an unusual situation, since they may help their adult children to bring up their family, or they may care for their elderly parents. A better work-life balance is crucial if we want to see an increase in the number of women in work and an extension of their pension rights.

The Commission recognises the major role that paternal leave and care leave, alongside the other available instruments, play in the achievement of these objectives. It has therefore commissioned some studies to evaluate the costs and benefits of these two types of leave. The results are due at the end of the year. On the basis of these two studies, the Commission will decide what action to take in respect of these measures.

The report rightly emphasises that women over 75 are more exposed to the risk of poverty than men in the same age bracket. Poverty among women may certainly be the result of insufficient pension cover, but more often than not it is also due to the shortness of their careers.

It is therefore vital that women’s careers are just as long as those of men. Setting the same retirement age for women and men is one way of achieving this. Measures need to be taken, within the scope of the pension system, to compensate for career breaks. Current legislation guarantees that women will accrue pension rights during their maternity leave.

Our White Paper on pensions is still being drafted, and the Commission will be considering the options for improving pension provisions for women. Next year we will examine, together with the Member States, the fitness for purpose of the pension system, and we will publish a report on this subject at the same time as the report on ageing. This report will focus on the situation of retired women who suffer from poverty and social exclusion.

Over the next few months we will continue to work closely with the parties concerned in drafting the White Paper, and we are counting on your active involvement, which will enable us to base the measures that we will be proposing on the best possible evidence and the best possible contributions.

The European Union is faced with a significantly ageing population due to the low birth rate, the increase in life expectancy and the forthcoming retirement of the baby-boom generation. The European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations will be an important opportunity to demolish the argument that an ageing population is a social and economic burden, and to show how much of an asset women and men of this age group are.


  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow, Tuesday 13 September at 11.30.

Written statements (Rule 149)


  Lívia Járóka (PPE), in writing. I would like to warmly congratulate Ms Bauer for her excellent report on the situation of women approaching retirement age. Our continent has the highest proportion of elderly women in the world, who frequently face double discrimination in the labour market, based both on age and gender. As a consequence of the rising divorce rates and the shorter life-expectancy of men, women are often and increasingly over-represented among the isolated elderly. Widows and lone elderly women in general are at a higher risk of poverty, isolation and social exclusion. Yet elderly women approaching retirement age represent a significant resource for tackling the ingravescent demographic challenges the EU must face, so we must ensure that they can stay healthy and active as well as remain in the labour market if they wish. Member States need to adequately address the multiple discrimination that older women are facing in seeking access to employment, also by exchanging best practices in improving the quality of working conditions of older women in order to create for them a sustainable and healthy workplace.


  Lena Kolarska-Bobińska (PPE), in writing.(PL) The group of women to whom in official documents we refer diplomatically as ‘approaching retirement age’, or for media purposes as ‘50+’, were once called by the Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk ‘invisible in society’. Therefore, I am very pleased that next year the ‘invisible’ will become visible, thanks to the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between the Generations. Employment levels of women over 55 are too low today in Europe for the Union to be able to achieve the target of 75% employment of women and men between the ages of 20 and 64 which we set ourselves in the Europe 2020 strategy. We will not achieve this target if employment among women does not rise. In Poland, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy is running a programme entitled ‘Solidarity between the Generations’ – a package of government measures intended to increase employment in Poland among people who are over 50. It is shocking that in the labour market women who are many years younger than men are often considered to be too ‘old’.


  Elżbieta Katarzyna Łukacijewska (PPE), in writing.(PL) I have read the motion for a resolution on the situation of women approaching retirement age, and would like firstly to congratulate the rapporteur. It is a significant and very important subject, because an ever increasing number of women over the age of 50 are being affected by the double problem of discrimination on the basis of their age and their sex, and they are more and more often becoming part of a group of isolated older people. In the light of the facts and statistics referred to by the rapporteur, the fact that the year 2012 has been designated as the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between the Generations should be all the more welcomed. In Poland, too, action is being taken to raise the vocational qualifications of women and enable them to begin an active life at a more advanced age. In many towns and cities, training is being held for older women, including training in computer skills and bookkeeping skills, and careers advice is being offered. Considering the fact that the proportion of the population aged 65+ is projected to increase from 17.4% in 2010 to 30% in 2060, such action should be intensified yet further, so as to make it possible for every woman to improve her vocational qualifications and sustain an active life.


  Jutta Steinruck (S&D), in writing.(DE) Older women are discriminated against on two counts on the labour market: because of their gender on the one hand, and because of their age on the other. The consequence for women aged 65 and over is the prospect of a poverty-stricken old age. The increase in atypical, precarious employment, mostly involving women, is a growing problem in Europe. We must ensure that women aged between 55 and 64 remain in the labour market and are not sidelined. We must also to create the conditions that allow them to return to work. In the context of 2012 as the Year for Active Ageing, it is particularly important that the European Commission should redouble its efforts to improve the situation of older women and increase their participation in the labour market. Strengthening equality policy and increasing training opportunities are just two ways in which we can improve the situation of older women in the labour market in the long term. A good work-life balance is the key here. Different phases in life are associated with different demands on women in terms of family and professional commitments and should not be punished with pension reductions.


  Artur Zasada (PPE), in writing.(PL) In accordance with the approach contained in the Europe 2020 strategy, the most important social objectives are now the fight against poverty, discrimination and the ageing of society, while at the same time striving to avoid or ease tensions between generations. This is why it is so important to introduce specific, long-term measures for the labour market and the pensions system. In many EU Member States, this will involve a considerable number of changes. The common practice of discrimination based on age and sex means that only one in three women approaching retirement age can count on having a job, and this is often a part-time and poorly-paid job. Often their good state of health, their willingness to work and particularly their skills and qualifications would allow them to have a full-time job for many years to come. The rapporteur has rightly drawn attention to the need for lifelong education and the creation of opportunities for obtaining new qualifications to enable people to stay in the labour market. It is essential to put in place measures to popularise flexible forms of employment, which will allow women to reconcile their working lives with their personal lives. The greatest challenge is to work on changing the attitude of employers to older people and to remove the pressure to retire at a fixed age. Let us remember that older people have full rights, and, as is shown by research, are the most loyal employees. Particularly when faced by problems with having to pay the benefits guaranteed to citizens in many of the EU’s Member States, we should take notice of the potential of the 50+ generation.

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