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May 2002     Vol. 3, no. 5

Seniors at work

Doreen Duchesne

  • Over one-quarter million (255,200) Canadians aged 65 and over reported being employed the week before the 1996 Census. Although most working seniors were aged 65 to 69 (59%), a substantial proportion were 70 to 74 (25%), or 75 and over (16%).
  • Over two-thirds of employed seniors were men, even though women accounted for the majority (57%) of the population this age. This may reflect the much lower labour force participation of these women when they were younger and social expectations were different. As the baby boom generation continues to age, it is likely that the participation rate of women aged 65 and over will move closer to that of men.
  • Highly educated Canadians are much more likely than those with less schooling to continue working beyond the expected age of retirement. In 1996, 1 in 5 seniors with a university degree was employed, compared with less than 1 in 20 seniors with an elementary school education only.
  • Working seniors were almost four times more likely to be self-employed than younger workers. In 1996, 46% of employed persons 65 and over (118,400) were self-employed, compared with only 13% of workers aged 15 to 64. Most self-employed seniors (57%) were working owners of unincorporated businesses without paid help.
  • Half of the senior workforce could be found in one of 20 occupations. Farmers and farm managers, combined with general farm workers, accounted for 21% of all senior workers. Retail salespersons and managers, sales representatives in wholesale trade (non-technical), and real estate agents made up an additional 9%.
  • Some occupations are notable for having very high concentrations of seniors. For example, 21% of judges were aged 65 and over, as were 12% of legislators. Seniors were also very visible in farming and farm management occupations (20% of the workforce aged 15 and over), hunting and trapping (18%), and religious occupations (12%).
  • At the national level, 7.8% of all seniors had jobs. The employment rate of Canadians aged 65 and over varied widely by province. For example, 15.8% of seniors living in Saskatchewan were employed, reflecting the importance of agriculture in this province. In contrast, only 2.4% of seniors in Newfoundland and Labrador had a job, which may be related to this area's persistently high unemployment rates.


Doreen Duchesne is with the Labour and Household Surveys Analysis Division. She can be reached at (613) 951-6379 or

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