Women over 65 double participation in workforce, Statistics Canada finds

About 90 per cent of Canadian women currently over age 65 have had a job at some point in their lifetime and almost a tenth of them are still working despite being past the usual age of retirement, according to research from Statistics Canada.

Portrait of senior women shows active lives, but still a risk of poverty

A Statistics Canada study finds 62 per cent of older women participate in clubs and organizations and more than half are on the internet. (Rich Schultz/ Associated Press)

About 90 per cent of Canadian women currently over age 65 have had a job at some point in their lifetime and nine per cent are still working, despite being past the usual age of retirement.

That is part of a new portrait of women over 65 released today by Statistics Canada, based on data from the census, household survey and other research.

In a marked change from in the past, more women in this group have worked or are working. In 1976, just 58.4 per cent of women over age 65 had ever held a job in their lifetime.

And just a decade ago, only 4.8 per cent of senior women worked, so the percentage of those with jobs has nearly doubled since then.

That trend to continue working reflects in part the longer lives senior women expect to live and a drop in senior incomes in the past decade. There's a new confidence that the world of work can help them stay above the poverty line. 

Senior women are active

In addition to being the first generation of Canadian women to have participated so fully in the workforce, today's senior women are more active and long-lived than any previous cohort.

The life expectancy of a Canadian woman who was age 65 today is about 21.7 more years, and women comprised 60 per cent of the population who will live past the age of 85.

Statistics Canada shows they spend most of those senior years being active:

  • About 33 per cent do volunteer work.
  • 62 per cent belong to organizations such as clubs, faith groups or hobby groups.
  • 69 per cent had used the internet in the past year and 37 per cent had a social media account.
  • 48.6 per cent say they eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day.
  • 43 per cent say they do active or moderately active exercise.

Those aged 65 to 69 were most likely to be active, but many continue their participation well into their 80s.

Statistics Canada said it's important to know the demographics and life circumstances of women over 65 because Canada will see more of them as the baby boom generation ages and moves into their senior years.

Poverty trends among older women

About 17.5 per cent of the female population was over age 65 in 2015, but that will increase to 24.2 per cent of the total female population in 2031. 

One of the main concerns is an increase in poverty among senior women since 1995.

Women over age 65 today are less likely to be poor than in the 1970s, when 36.3 per cent had low incomes. By 1995, only 4.7 per cent had low incomes, thanks to increases in pensions and government benefits.

But since then, everyone over 65 has lost ground as seniors' incomes failed to keep pace with inflation or the growth of other people's incomes, Statistics Canada found.

By 2015, more than 12 per cent of women over 65 lived on a low income and 28 per cent of senior women who were single or not living with family qualified as poor.

The median income for women over age 65 in 2013 was $21,600. But the portion of women's income that came from wages, self-employment income, or investment and retirement income was 11.7 per cent, reflecting their period in the workforce or decision to keep working.

About one in three senior women live alone and eight per cent live with extended family. Only 1.5 per cent of women aged 65 to 69 lived in collective dwellings such as care homes, but more than one third of those aged 85 or over lived in collective homes, the research found.