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Men, women, and the end of mandatory retirement

Summary:
Back in 2014, I wrote a blog post on the end of mandatory retirement for university professors. I quoted a number of men who argued that having a standard retirement age hurts women. Here's an extract from that original post: Thomas Klassen and David Macgregor, writing in the CAUT (Canadian Association of University Teachers) Bulletin, challenged ageism in academy on the grounds that "Mandatory retirement at an arbitrary age is devastating for female faculty who often began their careers later than males and may have had interruptions to raise children." Gender-equity is also the basis of Lloyd Spurrell and Ahmed Hussein's arguments against what they call "Rule 65": Because of their longer life expectancy, women must contribute significantly more to their pension plan by the time they are

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Back in 2014, I wrote a blog post on the end of mandatory retirement for university professors. I quoted a number of men who argued that having a standard retirement age hurts women. Here's an extract from that original post:

Thomas Klassen and David Macgregor, writing in the CAUT (Canadian Association of University Teachers) Bulletin, challenged ageism in academy on the grounds that "Mandatory retirement at an arbitrary age is devastating for female faculty who often began their careers later than males and may have had interruptions to raise children."

Gender-equity is also the basis of Lloyd Spurrell and Ahmed Hussein's arguments against what they call "Rule 65":

Because of their longer life expectancy, women must contribute significantly more to their pension plan by the time they are 65, if they are to be as financially secure as a man in the same situation. Women have to contribute enough for 20 years while men have to contribute enough for only 15 years. Why should women be discriminated against in this manner?

Yes, there are older female academics who will enjoy greater financial security as a result being able to work past 65. But let's think not about anecdotes - the stories of particular men and particular women. Overall, how many of the beneficiaries from the end of mandatory retirement are men, and how many are women? Who bears the costs of the transition?

Almost 15 years after the end of mandatory retirement, evidence on who takes advantage of the opportunity to work longer is mounting up. Unsurprisingly, it's those who were advocating for the elimination of a standard retirement age - men.

The CAUT almanac, available here, gives the number of full-time university professors in Canada by age.  Here is the number of male and female full-time university teachers by in 2007-8, shortly after the standard retirement age was eliminated (rounded to the nearest 10), along with the percentage who are male:

Number of full-time university teachers by age, 2007-08
Rounded to nearest 10. Source: Calculated from 2010-11 CAUT Almanac, Table 2.10. 
  50 to 54 55 to 59 60 to 64 65 to 69 70+
Male 4,060 3,950 3,880 1,180 210
Female 2,340 1,910 1,240 230 30
% male 63.4% 67.4% 75.8% 83.7% 87.5%

Unsurprisingly, in 2007-8, men pre-dominated in the oldest age groups - a legacy of the barriers women once faced in accessing full-time, tenure-track university positions.

But let's age these people 10 years, and see how many of them are still employed a decade later. If we take the 50 to 54 age cohort, and age them up 10 years, we actually have slightly more attrition among men than among female. This is not really surprising - the mortality  rate for men in their 50s is higher than the mortality rate for women. Moreover there is a big financial hit associated with retiring before 65 in a lot of pension plans, and women may not be able to afford to take that hit.

However if we look at the 55 to 59 cohort in 2007-8, and compare it to the 65 to 69 cohort in 2017-18, we see that it has become more male-dominated over time. The over-representation of men continues to increase as we move up the age distribution: in 2017-18 the 70+ cohort was 78.8% male. 

Number of full-time university teachers by age, 2017-18.
Source: CAUT Almanac  
  60 to 64 65 to 69 70+
Male 3,060 1,815 1,113
Female 1,902 801 300
% male 61.7% 69.4% 78.8%

It's not hard to figure out what's going on here. People make retirement decisions by weighing up the costs and benefits of continuing to be employed. 

There are lots of reasons to expect that female academics typically benefit less than men do from continuing in academic employment past the age of 65: they're less likely to have young or university-aged children to support, they're less likely to have a younger spouse who is still working (couples tend to synchronize retirement decisions), and they're less likely to be respected by colleagues and students as wise experts and leaders. Our society doesn't value older women, and universities reflect the values held by society as a whole.

There are also reasons to expect that the costs of continuing in employment will be higher for female professors -- the opportunity cost of not being able to care for a parent, partner, or grandchild, and the costs of meeting students' expectations that their female professors will be helpful, caring and organized.

I'm pretty sure that, for me, the costs of continuing to work past 65 will far outweigh the benefits, and I'll be happy to retire. But even if I was still enjoying teaching, I still believe retiring at 65 is the right thing to do.

First, there are juniors out there who are as smart and capable as me, if not smarter. They deserve the opportunity to have an academic position, and make an impact on the world.

Second, mandatory retirement is a bulwark against the end of tenure. If universities can't get rid of professors when they're old, they'll start finding other means to shed unwanted professors - and that's unlikely to be pretty.

Frances Woolley
I am a Professor of Economics at Carleton University, where I have taught since 1990. My research centres on families and public policy. My most-cited work is on modelling family-decision making, measuring inequality within the household, feminist economics, and tax-benefit policy towards families. I hold a BA from Simon Fraser University, an MA from Queen’s, and completed my doctorate at the London School of Economics, under the supervision of Tony Atkinson.

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