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The pandemic has accelerated the exit of older workers

Bumpy Ride #4: A new trend is emerging—women workers taking early retirement, especially in pandemic-affected industries.

November 21, 2022

2-minute read

This is part four of our Fall 2022 Bumpy Ride labour market series update. It presents up-to-date information on women’s economic security, unpacking national-level statistics and identifying emerging economic trends that impact women’s economic standing. More updates to come in the weeks ahead.

Quick takeaway:

Over the past year, there has been a notable 25 per cent increase in the number of women retiring from the workforce, especially among those aged 55 to 64.

Aging is driving labour market changes

The impact of population aging has long been expected and it is now driving change in Canada’s labour market.

There was a decline in retirements at the beginning of the pandemic as those who weren’t directly impacted by unemployment stayed put. But starting in 2021, retirements started to rise again. In September alone, 52,000 more people than usual retired from their job—21 per cent more retirements than September 2021—60 per cent of them were female.

Between September 2021 and September 2022, the number of female workers retiring rose by 24.7 per cent, driven largely by the exit of women aged 55 to 64. The rate of retirement among women in this age group has typically exceeded that of men, but it has been trending even higher, increasing by 2.4 percentage points since April 2021.

Four industries are driving this trend: health care, construction, retail trade, and education/social assistance—three of which are female-majority sectors whose workers have worked tirelessly on the frontlines through the pandemic to provide essential services. These same sectors have reported record-high vacancies this past year.

The other notable point is that higher rates of retirement are being driven by those who haven’t yet reached age 65. Up until the pandemic, both women and men had been working later in life as compared to earlier decades. The 2022 great retirement wave may well be reversing that trend in key industries where there are labour shortages.

Among women aged 25-54, the number of women leaving the labour market for caregiving or other family responsibilities surged in the early months of the pandemic but has since returned to pre-pandemic levels. That said, women in this age group are still more than three times as likely to give up paid employment to take care of family responsibilities compared to men. At this juncture, labour market exits appear to be concentrated among women aged 55 and older, with thousands taking early retirement for a variety of reasons.

About this update

Logo of Beyond Recovery: Toward a gender-just economy project

This Bumpy Ride Update series is part of a larger project, Beyond Recovery, which is working to support and advance a gender-just recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The project’s goals are to document and analyze women’s experiences, with a particular focus on those of marginalized women in hard-hit sectors, and to provide evidence-based policy proposals to ensure those who are most impacted in this pandemic are front and centre in Canada’s recovery. The Fall 2022 update draws on the annual and monthly Labour Force Survey and other related sources of information, highlighting differences between women and men as well as between different groups of women. Considering differences in the experiences of women with intersecting identities is crucial to understanding the impact of the pandemic and efforts to craft a fair and inclusive recovery, attentive to the experiences and struggles of marginalized and under-represented groups.

See the first Labour Market Update, published in May: Katherine Scott, A Bumpy Ride: Tracking women’s economic recovery amid the pandemic. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, May 31, 2022.

This project has been funded in part by Women and Gender Equality Canada.

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