Women, aging & economics: The changing labour market

GoldenGirlFinance.com

February 3rd saw the nation's latest unemployment statistics unveiled and, not surprisingly, the outlook remains bleak. According to Statistics Canada, the nation now faces a 7.6 percent unemployment rate (although some economics experts insist this number is actually closer to 11 percent), resulting in hundreds of thousands of Canadians living below the poverty line. And yet, one demographic continues to see positive gains.

According to numbers compiled from Statistics Canada for a special Globe and Mail report, employment trends among older women have soared 16.5 percent since the fall of 2008, while employment among the core demographic (25-54) has steadily fallen. In fact, virtually all of the increases in employment through and since the recession have been among women age 55 and older (the employment rate for women has risen 1.6 percentage points since the market collapse). [The extra X factor: Why women in the C-suite are good for business]

Breaking down the numbers
The recent surge of mature women in prominent workplace positions is a relatively new phenomenon, and one that can be linked directly to our economic climate. According to a report produced by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2008, older women on their own were 13 times more likely to be poor than seniors living with family. Nearly 14 percent of these elderly women were recorded as having low income in 2007. Furthermore, women who retired in May 2009 were rewarded with an average CPP pension of $391.29 a month, compared to an average of $564.23 a month for men.

Today, older women are seen as an experienced, untapped labour force capable of filling gaps and establishing structure within a company. In 2009, one-in-six employed Canadians were older workers, compared with one-in-ten in 2000. This proportion is expected to continue to grow; by 2036 many predict that the 55 and over labour force will be 18.7 percent, compared to 16 percent back in 2009. [More: Success & Savoir Faire: 5 women who made their millions after age 40]

The changing face of Canada's workforce
The secret to employment success, at least for older women, appears to have a lot to do with labour market requirements and shortages. The industries that have boasted the largest job gains in the past five years — healthcare, government and social services — have been well suited to the skillsets of older women. Manufacturing, forestry and other goods-producing services that have seen a decline in employment are typically dominated by a male workforce.

Baby boomers, especially women, are playing an integral role in North America's shift from a goods producing economy to service-oriented offerings. According to the U.S. Occupational Outlook 2010-11 edition, which projects job growth through 2018, the areas with the most anticipated growth are almost entirely service based. On the list are a variety of finance jobs, healthcare and personal care services, education and administrative support work.

The worst industries for older workers, according to the report, include postal service positions, manufacturing and production, publishing jobs, farming, forestry and oil extraction. [More: The skinny & rich conundrum: Eating disorders among executive women on the rise]

Work: The new retirement
The years after age 55 used to be a turning point for elderly Canadians. Grandkids and golf clubs became top priorities, replacing board meetings and briefcases. But things have changed, and a number of factors are causing more elderly Canadian women to stay active in the workforce. From mounting financial need to rising life expectancy, Canadian women are feeling compelled to embark on second (or third or fourth) careers.

But it goes beyond paycheques and mental stimulation. According to Janice Kussner, partner in executive search practice at Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions, older women are turning to service sector jobs, particularly not-for-profit and public sector positions, because they want to make a difference. Mature women are drawn to jobs that have "a cause or mission or mandate that resonates."

The rise of the mature entrepreneurs
A growing number of retired women are also trying their hand at entrepreneurism. These mature businesswomen often enter the game late in life, normally between the ages of 40 and 60 following a previous career. Experienced and knowledgeable, these women now account for nearly one third of all entrepreneurs worldwide. Interestingly enough, the primary goal of mature female entrepreneurs isn't to make money. Again, these women are focused on personal satisfaction and community involvement. Flexible hours and added income are just a small part of the allure. [More: Sexy, single and 60: The 'grey divorce' trend]

The flipside
Canada's changing workforce will have a major impact on the nation's economic breakdown, workplace dynamics and business management. Instead of fresh-faced college grads, companies are pulling a 180, focusing on a demographic they believe to be accomplished, capable and above all else, a smart investment.

Which is great news for grandma, but what about the next generation?

Instead of entering the workforce directly after graduation, many young Canadians are finding themselves left out in the cold, with nothing but their degrees to keep them warm. Smart but inexperienced, these bright and often entitled minds are no match for mature workers, many of whom are willing to do more for less pay. Things have become so bad that twenty-something Canadians are now considered part of the NINJA generation: No Income, No Job, and No Assets.

Older women are ruling the workforce, despite tough economic times and fierce competition from younger candidates. To put it simply, wrinkles are the new resume.

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