No retirement: Why are more and more people over 70 still working?

Old people spend time in the garage.
Old people spend time in the garage. Copyright GARY O'BRIEN/AP
By Laura Llach
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In Spain, the number of people working past retirement in 2022 lept 49% compared to 2008.


At 72, Francisco Marcellán still walks every morning to his office at Carlos III University in Madrid.

He has been doing so for the last 40 years and has no plans to quit his job as a researcher in the mathematical analysis department.

The emeritus professor is sure he does not want to retire.

He continued teaching until he was 70 years old and after that the university offered to keep him as professor emeritus. Now he receives his pension, which is half his former salary, plus a supplement paid by the institution.

"I could have retired at 65, but I believe that my physical and mental condition won’t be an obstacle to continue," Marcellán tells Euronews.

"The main reason why I keep working is not due to financial issues. However, it is true that my salary reduction is an important aspect when it comes to pondering the decision. I would receive half of my salary on retirement," he adds.

At the moment, the professor has not decided when he will quit his job, he wants to continue until he is forced to stop.

He says there are other teachers who find themselves in a similar situation, but the reasons vary: Some - like Marcellán - carry on out of a love for their jobs, others out of necessity.

With the retirement age set at 65 and an average pension of 1,000 euros per month, the number of people not retiring has been growing steadily. Especially those whose pension is well below the average.

In 2022, the amount of people over 70 who were still working increased by 49% compared to 2008, according to the Spanish National Institute of Statistics.

Figures show there are currently 62,000 people in this age group who have not retired.

This means that, in the last five years, the southern European country has broken its all-time record.

Two old people watch an engine run at the antique engine and tractor show.BERNARD TRONCALE/AP

Neverending working life

While some are looking forward to retirement, others are unable to throw in the towel. 

Marcellán made the decision voluntarily, but many older people cannot afford to retire due to low pensions.

Spain's situation changed after the 2008 economic crisis hit. Prior to this early retirements were the norm. It was common for workers to leave the labour market at the age of 60 with high pensions.

This has changed radically.

"Legally, there has been a push for people to prolong their working lives," Pau Miret Gamundi, a sociologist at the Centre for Demographic Studies, tells Euronews. "Early retirements have been scrapped and now the penalties for doing so are very high." 

Various legislative reforms have taken place in Spain over the years. Forced retirement has been one of the most controversial points that has been dropped and later re-introduced, depending on the ruling political party.


This concept, by which a company can force its workers to retire even if they don’t want to, was scrapped by the Conservatives in 2012 and restored by the Socialists in 2018, although raising the age limit to 68.

Everyone must work 15 working years to be entitled to a pension in Spain by law. If they don't, they cannot draw state support. Yet, even after achieving this, many people still try to work as many years as possible to increase their pension earnings, says Gamundi.

Thanassis Stavrakis/AP
Pensioners take part in an anti-austerity protest outside the Labour Ministry in Athens.Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

Gender inequalities

As retirement comes later and later for many, women are at a particular disadvantage. 

"There are many women who had to leave the labour market to take care of their families. So they need to go back to work later in their life to be able to actually have a pension. It is mostly them who are being forced to prolong their working lives," says sociologist Gamundi.

"This is less common among men, who generally started working at a younger age and by the time they reach retirement age, they have enough years of contribution," he adds.


The expert is also concerned about how the trend will evolve in the future as young people enter a very unstable labour market in which it is very difficult to find a job. 

This could end up delaying their future retirement.

Especially the self-employed who at the end of their working life will be left with a pension of 500 or 600 euros.

Despite the fact that more and more seniors will not be able to retire, the situation is not as dramatic as in other countries, according to the expert.

All eyes are on the United States. Without a public pension system to allow workers to breathe a sigh of relief, the trend suggests that the new average age of retirement could reach 80 years old, as US census data suggests.

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