The continuous increase in life expectancy has been offset in recent decades by the increase in the retirement age in most countries (see previous In Focus). But many Europeans still spend more years in retirement today than previous generations and in comparison to other countries.

According to the latest available data (for 2020), the remaining life expectancy at the average age of labour market exit in Europe is 19.5 years for men, or 24 years for women. In the USA the corresponding figures are 18.6 years for men and 21.3 years for women. This gap between men and women is due to both higher life expectancy and lower labour market exit age among women.

Greece ranks first and third among EU member states for women (28.4 years) and men (23.0 years) respectively. Only in Luxembourg (24.0 years) and France (23.5 years) men live more years after the effective retirement age, while Spain (23.0 years) comes fourth with a slight difference from our country. Among women, Greece is followed by Spain (27.7 years), France (27.1 years), and Luxembourg (26.4 years). At the other end of the distribution, the average Dane or Swede is expected to spent 4 years less in retirement  than the average Greek if he is a man, or 6 years if he is a woman.

Variations in life expectancy are recorded not only between countries and between sexes, but also between social groups. As reported in a recent Le Monde article, in France a 35-year-old manager is expected to live 6.4 years longer than a blue-collar worker. The application of uniform pension rules reproduces the already existing inequalities in life expectancy.

Moreover, the rich not only live longer than the poor, they are also healthier, and thus spend more years after retirement without illness or disability. Healthy life years vary significantly from country to country (Greece is comparatively high), but also between social groups.

Although these two facts are often used as arguments against increasing the retirement age (recently, in France against President Macron’s reform), their validity can be questioned. Civil servants do not live less than average, and yet in many countries they retire earlier. The same of course (as we saw above) happens with women.

It remains a fact that some social groups do live shorter lives and spent less healthy years in retirement. The improvement of the working and living conditions of all, and especially of these groups, with the aim of “active ageing”, must be on the agenda of public policy of all member states.