Older Chinese Are Willing to Work. But Finding Jobs Isn’t Easy.
At 66, Lü Fengchen is retired. He is still willing to work, but finding a job for someone of his age isn’t easy.
Lü, from the northern province of Shanxi, has been hunting for a security guard position in Beijing since last October, hoping for a higher income in the capital. But he has only received rejections so far.
“It’s hard to find work when you’re older,” he told Sixth Tone. “I asked over a dozen (employers) over the past few months, but all of them looked down on me because of my age and preferred younger people.”
While a growing group of burnt-out young Chinese are resorting to FIRE — “Financial Independence, Retire Early” — philosophy, many older retirees are seeking the opposite. An October survey from recruitment platform 51job.com showed that about two out of three people among the 1,368 respondents aged 60 or over showed a strong desire to reenter the job market after retiring.
But despite the willingness of older individuals to join the workforce again, ageist attitudes have proved to be a hiccup for many. The 41% of respondents in the 51job.com survey claimed age-related discrimination as the main reason for being rejected from a job.
And then there’s bureaucracy, too. Under the current labor law, those reaching retirement age — 60 for men, 55 for female cadres, and 50 for women in blue-collar jobs — are not qualified to sign labor contracts that guarantee work injury compensation, severance pay, and statutory holidays, among others.
Zang Shuai, a Beijing-based recruiter, told Sixth Tone that most companies in big cities would not hire people aged over 60 due to difficulties in buying commercial insurance for them.
“Some employers on the outskirts may work around this by using identities of younger people under the elderly person’s name,” he said. “Instead of being reemployed at companies, many older workers have to turn to odd jobs or labor dispatch agencies, which is insecure.”
For many like Lü, who farmed during his younger years and isn’t a part of the country’s retirement pension system, working odd jobs at their age means amassing extra savings for their twilight years. He said he plans to work for another three to five years and save up to 200,000 yuan ($27,387).
“I don’t want to add pressure to my daughter, who lives a stressful life and brings up her teenage son alone,” Lü said. “As long as I don’t get sick, I would not have a problem working until I’m 71 or 72.”
More older people wanting to reenter the workforce — either out of necessity or not wanting to stay idle — comes at a time when China’s workforce is gradually shrinking amid a rapidly aging population. Those aged 60 and above accounted for 8.8% of about 750 million people employed in 2020, official data showed.
To cope with the situation, the country plans to “gradually delay” the official retirement age. Several provinces are already launching pilot projects for delaying the retirement age, and a dedicated recruitment website for elderly workers started offering services from August.
As of Wednesday, the website listed 67 job posts, including for an aging services consultant, IT specialist, orderly, receptionist, and cook, with a monthly salary ranging from 1,000 yuan to over 20,000 yuan. The 51job.com report showed that the service and logistics sectors, and sanitation work and cooking in particular, were among the top choices for older job seekers.
Mei Zhigang, a sociology professor at Central China Normal University, believes that a “flexible retirement system” allowing people to retire at the official age while offering legal support to those willing to continue working could be a solution. Citing demographic studies, he added that the country faced a labor crunch for people aged between 16 and 60.
“Many elderly people are capable of working as well as willing to work, which can supplement a lack of labor supply that emerged as early as in 2012,” Mei told Sixth Tone. “The low-income group has been financially hit hard by the pandemic over the past years and tends to return to work.”
Zeng Qingyi from the southwestern Sichuan province is among those just not ready to retire. The 60-year-old, who works in the construction industry and makes 7,000 yuan per month, told Sixth Tone he wants to be financially independent as long as he can and not bother his son by making him support his parents.
“I’m not used to staying idle — it’s boring,” Zeng told Sixth Tone. “When I’m capable of making money, I don’t want to ask my son for help and increase the burden on him.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: An older teacher teaches at a primary school in Qingdao, Shandong province, April. 4, 2022. VCG)