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Report: France

Too young to stop working

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11 min

After a successful career in occupational health, Michel Vié could have sat back and enjoyed a comfortable pension when he hit 62 – the legal age of retirement in France. But like a growing number of people, he opted to carrying on working.

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Married for the third time late in life, with five children ranging from 38 to just under seven years old, Vié admits that there was financial pressure. However, he also wanted to stay connected to society.

Report - Retired but still in business

“The main reason was to stay in the world of work, to remain active alongside people I know and appreciate,” he says. “I didn’t want to be marginalised and pushed aside.”

As an older dad, he also felt it was important for his young son to have the image of an active dad.

But finding work, especially in the current climate, is particularly difficult for the over 60s in France.

“People in French companies in particular will say, ‘Oh, he’s pushing 60, isn’t it time he stopped working?’ You hear that a lot, unfortunately,” laments Vié.

Like the majority of pensioners wishing to work, Vié opted to stay in the same field “where you’ve already got peer recognition”, and set up his own small business venture by becoming an auto-entrepreneur.

Twenty percent of French auto-entrepreneurs are over 50. The special status allows you to earn a limited salary whilst keeping your pension rights.

Vié says being able to earn up to 2,000 euros a month is a welcome top-up to his pension, but in a country where working after 60 is not the norm, he has had a frosty reception.

“In all honesty, most people have been negative about this and it took me by surprise,” he says. “Even people I know well and respect said, ‘why are you bothering to do that, you’re lucky to be retired. Stay at home!’”

He says working after retirement still isn’t part of French mores.

“The mentality overall is, ‘we don’t need you in the world of work, step aside and give the younger generation a chance.’”

For Moira Allen, founder of the Cercle des seniors actifs (the French branch of “2 young 2 retire”), this comes as little surprise.

“All the indicators (on the European Commission’s active aging index) show that France is excellent, as far as health and social care is concerned,” says Allen. “But as far as work is concerned, it’s way down.”

She’s convinced, however, that attitudes are changing.

“Up until now, the trend was that you worked and worked and then you retired,” Allen says. “Then, you dropped into an abyss and suddenly people were talking about dependency and Alzheimer’s or whatever. But I think they’re opening up their eyes more and more.”

Allen says just seven percent of the population is genuinely dependent or suffering from a degenerative disease, which means that a majority of people are not.

“Our whole thing is, we’re not a burden and we don’t want to be a burden,” says Allen. “I’m 66, going 67. I don’t feel I need to be looked after. I want to be active and contribute.”

As a member of the Cercle des seniors actifs, Vié says it helped give him direction, a game plan and introduced him to other dynamic seniors from abroad.

“It’s reassuring because you see you’re not the only one, you’re not that abnormal," Vié says.

Vié is set on working another ten years at least.

“The limit is 80,” he laughs, “I’ve seen plenty of people in their 80s who are still mentally and physically able to contribute a lot.”

French actress Emmanuelle Riva, for example, was nominated for an Oscar for best actress in Michel Haneke’s film Amourat the age of 86. A welcome reminder that some French people not only have a lot to offer, but they actually improve with age.

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