EU citizens working longer than a decade ago
Katherine Berjikian
Workers in Turkey only spend 29.4 years in the labor market in Europe. On average, Europeans spend 36.2 years as workers (Credit: VCG)

Workers in Turkey only spend 29.4 years in the labor market in Europe. On average, Europeans spend 36.2 years as workers (Credit: VCG)

Workers in the EU are staying in the labor market for longer than they were a decade ago, and the average age of retirement is getting higher, according to Eurostat. 

With the average lifespan increasing, pension provision has become an increasingly important political topic. In the UK, the Labour party has attempted to court this ageing population - which traditionally is much more likely to vote Conservative - by pledging to reimburse millions of women who had to work longer when the national pension age for women jumped from 60 to 65. On 23 November, the party promised an average payment of around $20,000 if they win the national election on 12 December. 

The planned increase in pension age was brought forward by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government elected in 2010, and now Labour says that around three million women originally affected by this increase were not given adequate warning to prepare. The increase was designed to match the pension age for women to the male pension age. 

It is the first step in a several-year plan to increase the UK's pension age to 68 by 2039. According to the Finnish Centre for Pensions, every EU state except Poland, Slovenia and Luxembourg has made plans to increase its own retirement age, but only the UK, Sweden and Estonia intend to raise it as far as 68. 

This lengthening of working lives is not a new thing for EU citizens. Between 2009 and 2019, the average person in the EU "gained" almost two years to their working lifetime, from 34.4 to 36.2 years, according to Eurostat. 

In the Netherlands, where the retirement age is 65, the average working lifetime went from 39 years to 40.5 years. That means the Dutch work the longest in the EU, with Denmark second and the UK third. Italy has the shortest working life of any EU country, with people spending on average 31.8 years in the labour market. 

Despite the increasing gender equalization of pension age, on average men will still work longer than women. In 2018 the average male working life was 38.6 years while a woman's was 33.7 years. But, again, women are catching men up: in 2000, those numbers were 36.4 years for men and 29.2 years for women. 

The exceptions to the rule of men working longer are Latvia, where there is no difference between the working lives of the genders, and Lithuania, where women work more years than men. Italy has the largest gender work gap of 9.4 years, with women working only 27 years of their life.