Research from Statistics Canada finds that a 50-year-old worker in 2008 could expect to stay in the labour force another 16 years — 3.5 years longer than would have been the case in the mid-1990s.
The study estimates the number of years a 50-year-old worker can expect to work before retiring, if retirement rates of a given year prevail.
The report, which is based on statistics dating back to the mid-'70s, says older workers have been increasingly delaying retirement since the mid-1990s. That reverses a trend seen in the 1980s and early 1990s, when early retirements were prevalent due to high public-sector deficits and downsizing among private-sector organizations.
Statistics Canada researcher Diane Galarneau, who co-wrote the report with Yves Carriere, said they don't have any information about the motivation of people and why they're remaining at work, but said there are several potential factors at play. Among them: individuals are living longer and in good health, and there are greater opportunities for boomers since the cohort following them into the labour market is smaller.
Galarneau said finances — rising levels of debt and shrinking nest eggs — may also figure in. However, she noted the financial crisis of 2008 is not a main factor since the delayed retirement trend has been observed now for nearly 15 years.
Jim Stanford, economist with the Canadian Auto Workers, said in the current climate it isn't surprising older workers are staying on the job longer given the level of economic uncertainty, along with those without pension plans depending on RRSPs to help fund their retirement.
With many seeing their savings hammered by financial market turmoil, a growing proportion of older Canadians can't afford to retire, he said.
"They don't get as much time to enjoy the fruits of their labour for their life, but secondly it makes the problem of youth unemployment all the worse," Stanford said.
"We do have a whole generation of Canadians that are better educated than ever which is finding it extremely hard to find work. You've got well-trained, university-educated people doing odd jobs or working in fast food, and that will be all the worse if the baby boomers end up working longer."
With many boomers continuing to work as they enter what should be their retirement years, it carries an implication that more jobs will need to be created to absorb newcomers into the labour force, said Andrew Jackson, chief economist with the Canadian Labour Congress.
"The employment rate and the participation rate are probably not going to decline as fast as people were anticipating because of this tendency to delay retirement," he said from Ottawa.
Susan Eng, vice-president, advocacy for CARP, said the upside to older workers who delay retirement is that they're not committed to retiring at a certain age.
"There's also the concern always on the dark side issues of ageism and people being forced out of the workplace," she said.
"It is a positive sign that people see that their working lives don't end at a certain date, that they want to keep working, they have something to contribute and the workplaces want to keep them there. The negative side of that, of course, is some of them have to keep working."
Despite greater gender equity, many women who leave the workforce to take on caregiving responsibilities for children and later parents and spouses are particularly vulnerable, she noted.
"Their retirement savings are negligible and they are forming a greater percentage of those people who are facing financial insecurity in retirement."
After a 35-year career in arts administration, Adina Lebo has no plans to slow down.
At age 61, the Toronto chapter chair of CARP says she's young at heart and spirit, and that her decision to continue working stems both from desire and necessity.
"I have accumulated all kinds of skills from communications to event planning to strategy and organizational startups, so I'm continuing to do that. I see doing that for the foreseeable future just because I don't know what I would do if I retired," Lebo said with a laugh. "I'm just used to getting up and doing and participating in society, not withdrawing from it.
"I'm doing different things now in different arenas, but I'm using all the skills I've accumulated through my life. I don't know if I will ever be financially stable enough to retire given cost-of-living increases and the economics and the stocks and bonds and RRSPs ... the fluctuations."
Lebo said many of her friends have opted to start up small businesses in baking or dogwalking and are happy in their careers going forward whether as their own bosses or working for others — albeit at a more leisurely pace.
"I think as you get older, the one thing I'm seeing changing is you don't want to do the 100-hour weeks, the 80-hour weeks, the life absorbed by work," she said.
"I think as you age you get a work-life balance. I'm doing work that I love doing, but I'm also taking time for myself. I get to my exercise classes, I get to the opera, I get to the theatre. So your life becomes just a little more well-rounded."