NO MENTAL RETIREMENT: Evidence from Germany of active older workers willing to keep learning

Prejudices about unproductive older workers are widespread. They are said to be slower, to be overwhelmed by modern information technology and to be sick more often. This hurts older persons’ jobs prospects. It is also a dangerous story for societies facing both skills shortages and overburdened pension insurance systems, which applies to most OECD countries. 

To combat these harmful stereotypes about older workers, new research by Jens Ruhose, Stephan Thomsen and Insa Weilage, to be presented at the annual (virtual) congress of the European Economic Association in August 2020, suggests that older people are still interested in learning and acquiring new skills, even when they do not have to.

They are the first to disentangle the willingness of the worker to learn from other factors such as the requirements of the employer or the financial constraints on the worker. The research complements existing evidence that many older workers would work past retirement (Ameriks et al, 2020), and that older people are as competitive as younger ones (Charness and Villeval, 2009).

Ruhose and colleagues examine a side effect of a German partial retirement programme that effectively enabled older workers to retire up to five years early. They combine the reform with data from community learning centres (CLCs), which exist in almost every German county and offer non-formal adult education for a nominal fee per course.

In their analysis, Ruhose and colleagues show that in West German regions in which more men were eligible to retire early, their participation share in work-related courses in local community learning centres rose. Specifically, if a county had a population share of men aged 55 to 64 that was one percentage point above the average of all counties, the CLC share of persons aged 50 to 64 in work-related courses was almost two percentage points higher after the programme was widely adopted. 

This study supports the notion of active older people who are willing to engage in lifelong learning. This is an important result because the feasibility of longer working lives, which includes continued learning for all workers, is a central point in solving both skills shortages and overburdened pension insurance systems in many countries.


The full discussion paper can be found here:


Insa Weilage


Tel.: +49 (0)511 762 4872




Ameriks, J., Briggs, J. S., Caplin, A., Lee, M., Shapiro, M. D., and Tonetti, C. (2020). Older Americans would work longer if jobs were flexible. American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, 12(1):174–209.

Charness, G., and Villeval, M.-C. (2009). Cooperation and competition in intergenerational experiments in the field and the laboratory. American Economic Review, 99(3):956–978.