CMV: The EU should abolish mandatory retirement

Fri Jul 20 2018 15:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)


Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen

Aarhus University


link active when debate starts

Tutorial on how to join debates


Background: EU prohibits employment discrimination on grounds of age. This prohibition, however, is much weaker than similar prohibitions of discrimination on grounds of sex and race. Specifically, the prohibition allows member states and employers considerable room for imposing mandatory requirement age rules.

Proposal: The EU should adopt more strict standards on age discrimination and prohibit mandatory age retirement rules.

Core argument: Age discrimination is in many ways similar to other forms of discrimination. If we were to adopt a stance toward age discrimination, which is warranted by the similarities between age discrimination and other forms of discrimination, we would abolish mandatory retirement. We rightly are very critical of other forms of discrimination. Thus, we should abolish mandatory retirement.

Importance: European populations are becoming older. Insofar as mandatory retirement age is age discrimination, it is a form of discrimination that will affect many more EU citizens in the future. Also, mandatory retirement age rules shrink the size of an already shrinking workforce even further.

Below I respond to five objections to my proposal.

The proxy challenge: For many jobs age is a pretty reliable indicator of abilities. Reply: Suppose gender is a pretty reliable indictor of the sort of abilities one needs, say, in special elite forces. Nevertheless, the use of a particular gender as a requirement would be discriminatory. Why is the same not the case with age? Even though decline sets in at some point in most people’s lives, the peaks of some downhill people are higher than many uphill ones.

The stigma challenge: Unlike sexist and racist discrimination age, discrimination does not involve stigma and negative stereotypes of the discriminatees. Reply: While it might be generally thought less unacceptable to stigmatize old people, e.g., as rigid, inactive, conservative, senile etc., than to stigmatize women or members of racial minorities, there is not less stigma of elderly people.

The equal opportunity challenge: Age discrimination is less bad than other forms of discrimination, because, setting aside unlucky people who die young, everyone will eventually become subjected to it and, thus, it is compatible with equality of opportunity. Reply: Imagine we all take turns being slaves. While this is compatible with lifetime equality of opportunity, it would still be unjust. Justice comprises more than equality of opportunity. It also comprises our relating to one another as equals. A society in which elderly people are excluded from large parts of the labor market violates that condition.

The youth unemployment challenge: In the absence of a compulsory retirement young people will have worse job opportunities. Reply: Suppose justice requires equalizing opportunities across different birth cohorts as the present challenge presupposes. Suppose also that present fifty year olds struggled with high youth unemployment when they were in the twenties, and present twenty year olds enjoy a relatively benign job market. In this case, equalizing opportunities across birth cohorts, by parity of reasoning, supports compulsory job market entry age, i.e., the reverse of a mandatory retirement age!

The employee protection challenge: Not having to struggle with the difficult question of when to retire is a good thing. Reply: Abolishing mandatory retirement age is compatible with giving employees the right to request that their contract specifies when their employment ceases.

Background Information

  • European law generally prohibits workplace discrimination on grounds of age. In fact, there are a number of EU directives aimed at preventing discrimination against workers on a variety of grounds, including gender, nationality and age

  • However, with respect to workplace discrimination on grounds of age, EU legislation has been repeatedly criticized for being too lax

  • The issue of mandatory retirement clauses in contracts is subject to a number of EU regulations, most notably

    • Directive 2000/78EC (also known the “Equality Framework Directive 2000”)

    • However, even though Directive 2000/78/EC clearly states that age discrimination within the EU is unlawful, it has been argued that the very same directive in fact allows for age discrimination

    • Likewise, a number of European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings  have found that the limitation of contracts on the basis of age qualifies as age discrimination. However, the ECJ also repeatedly suggested under said Article 6 such contracts can be justified​

Read more

EU Legal Protection against age discrimination

Abolishing Mandatory Retirement

Debate Summary

20 comments, 5 contributors

please see diagram at

OVERVIEW: In the discussion, contributors were skeptical about the causal effect of a reduction of age discrimination on overall discrimination. (Less age discrimination could go along with more discrimination, e.g., of young people.) On a conceptual level, there were different opinions about whether or not age discrimination should count as discrimination at all. Concern the general goal (less discrimination), some contributors thought that there were other, maybe more important goals (such as protection of employees) which would be compromised by the abolishment of mandatory retirement.


#Declared effects to not serve declared goal
• One comment points to the problem, that if old people do not retire, young people are excluded from the labor market even more.
• One contributor point out that the proposed action could even strengthen existing inequalities, because people who were already successful in the labor market would receive further benefits: “Someone that had the opportunity to work is not equal to someone that did’nt.”
• One contributor doubts that “age discrimination is (…) similar to race or gender discrimination.” His argument: “There are practical reasons why a company might prefer an older or a younger worker (…)”, which have nothing to do with discrimination.

#Conflict with other goals
“Mandatory retirement age also serves as a protection of the worker/employee”, one comment holds.

  • Facebook - Black Circle
  • Twitter - Black Circle

Subscribe to our mailing list to receive reminders of upcoming debates