Report: France

France's seniors don't take retirement lying down

Sarah Elzas

France’s retirement age is one of the lowest in the world, and certainly within Europe. At age 62, people can receive their full pensions. But these ‘young’ seniors are often still physically and mentally active. The first of French baby boomers hit retirement age last year, and there will be increasing numbers of them: by 2020, 20 million people will be over the age of 60. The French often portray this growing aging population as a burden to society, but they're starting to see it also as an opportunity.

  • Silver economy

Today, more than a third of the French population is over the age of 50. They're labeled, for marketing purposes, as seniors, and those selling them products and services have dubbed their market the "silver economy."

84 percent of all consumption in France comes from 50 plus people.

Hervé Sauzay, consultant

"There is no sector that can avoid addressing this specific target," says consultant Hervé Sauzay, who runs the Salon des Seniors, a yearly trade show aimed at seniors. "Seniors nowadays are much more educated and richer than their parents."

The silver economy is now part of every sector, from furniture to food, health to housing and entertainment to insurance.

Jerome Pigniez, founder of Gé, says the French tend to see themselves as younger than they really are, so everything will end up being adapted: design for the old as you would design for all.

Report - France discovers silver economy

"Technology will be created that is useful for young people too. Just take the example of the remote control: it was designed for handicapped people. Now everyone uses it," he says.

The minister for the elderly, Michele Delaunay, is to launch the silver economy this week as an official economic sector.

  • Putting seniors to work

Retirement in France has long been considered a coveted moment: a time to relax, spend time with grandkids or go travel. But increasingly, people looking ahead to another 20 to 30 years of life are not ready to check out, just yet.

Some, like Michel Vié have decided to continue working by starting their own businesses.

Others looking for part-time work have a growing range of options.

Stephanie Léone created Mamy Factory, which hires grannies to knit children's clothing: "I didn't want to sell things to retired people. A lot of people do it, but I wanted to work with the active part of the retired people, not to sell them things at the end of their lives."

Report - Putting French grannies to work

For Jocelyne Bertin, 62, working for Mamy Factory combines her passion for knitting, and it brings in a bit of extra money: "I put it into a savings account and it allows me to treat myself. But doing this is really about doing something to occupy myself [and] that serves a purpose."

Valérie Gruaut, founder of, a recruitment website for those 45 years and older, says more than half of those registered are retired and looking for a little extra income:

“Either because they have no choice: they are forced to work to cover their expenses. Or else it’s to make a little extra money for travel, to go out to eat or give a gift to a grandchild," she says.

And businesses like these are booming: has received a stark increase of job seekers this year, and Léone has received 3,000 applications from retirees wanting to knit.

  • Volunteer, please?

"Volunteers are a very rare commodity, like gold, even among seniors," says Claude Milhaud, 80, a volunteer with the Alliance du Coeur Ile de France, which gives support to people who have cardiac problems.

Report - French retired but still active in voluntary work

"Volunteerism requires a certain consistency. You have to persuade people to volunteer. And they don’t, because they feel pressure."

You see rapidly that your life is empty without activity.

Jean-Claude Hanot, volunteer for Espace Bénévolat

Nevertheless, over 30 percent of France's volunteers are seniors: they have time and professional experience that can be useful to an organisation.

“Volunteering is good for the charity, but also good for you,” says Jean-Claude Hanot, who retired from the world of public relations and is now doing the same thing as a volunteer for Espace Bénévolat, which connects volunteers with groups that need them.

Milhaud agrees. "I ran a company and had a very active life. And I think that at my age, after two heart attacks, volunteering is a bit what keeps me in shape."

  • French pensioners get web-savvy

As they navigate the world of retirement, finding the right balance between rest and activity, looking for volunteer and job opportunities, seniors are realising the need to be online.

"I don't know how I could live before without the net, I just wonder," says Marielle Loustalot, 63, who used a computer at work, but never had to think very much about it. "It was very easy when I was working: it was always the same programs, and when you have a break down, you just call the engineer and he came and fixed it up for you!"

Report - French pensioners get web-savvy

Today, retired, she has to rely on herself to fix problems, and is taking classes at Relais 59, a community centre in Paris, one of a number of organisations offering computer training to adults, many of them seniors.

Teacher Yann Vandeputte says one of the most difficult things for seniors is embracing the culture: "Young generations understand straight away the meanings of the icons and the logic behind an interface, but for the older generations, it's very, very hard."

While he believes computer literacy is getting to be as important as knowing how to read and write, not everybody needs to be online.

"You have to understand these devices, but then you make a choice," he says. "It's a luxury to not need digital devices! I often tell people, if you don't need it, don't take it. Live your life!"


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