Older workers won't move for a job and it's costing our economy: Western prof

Western University assistant economics professor Simona Cociuba says older workers are less willing than younger ones to change job sectors and move geographically for work. That means economies with more older workers have a hard time in periods of economic change.

Canada's aging population and low birth rate means our economy could have trouble responding to change

Countries with younger workers can respond to periods of economic change, because young people are willing to change industries and relocate. But Canada has an aging population and a low fertility rate, according to assistant economics professor Simona Cociuba. (Marija Stojkovic/Shutterstock)

Millenials may get a lot of flak for ruining things, but new research from Western University suggests that younger workers are actually a more valuable economic resource than their older counterparts during periods of economic disruption.

That's because these younger workers—loosely defined as those under 35—are more willing to move for a job, both across sectors and geographically, according to economics researchers Simona Cociuba and James MacGee.

Older workers, on the other hand, are not. 

"[Let's say] I've been employed in mining and I've done it for 30 years of my life," said Cociuba.

"At that point it will be pretty difficult for me to drop everything I've done, and move into an IT sector and be up to speed."

Beyond the specialization that comes with experience, entrenched social ties can also play a role in older workers' reluctance to move, Cociuba said. 

Londoner Bob Miller says he moved for a job early on in his career, but that he wouldn't do it at this stage. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

​Cociuba's research rings true to Bob Miller, an architectural technologist who's called London home for 15 years. Originally from Brantford, Miller spent a few years at a job in Kingston when he was a new graduate, before moving back to the southwest to be closer to family.

Now, Miller says he doesn't think he'd be as flexible. 

"[If I were laid off] I'd try to stick around, I have three small kids in school and my wife works in London, so it'd be difficult to pick up and move," Miller said.

Joel Kennedy says he would consider moving for work if the pay and the opportunity were good. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Student Joel Kennedy speaks to the other side of Cociuba's research. Although Kennedy has a job downtown and is originally from the area, he says he'd be up for moving if the right offer came along.

"There's nothing keeping me here, and nothing pushing me away, so I would be open to either," he said.

Canada's economy needs youngsters: prof

According to Cociuba, Canada needs more people like Joel Kennedy. She said countries with high fertility rates and population growth are best positioned to channel young workers where the jobs are.

Unfortunately, we are not one of those countries

"All of the sudden we're faced with a problem of how do we build resilient economies when the workforce is getting older and a little more inflexible?" Cociuba said.

Cociuba says encouraging fertility will result in a greater pool of young workers—but that the results won't take effect for another 20 years or so. (nata-lunata/Shutterstock)

Policies to encourage fertility would help produce younger workers—but not for at least another 20 years or so, she said.

In the meantime, Cociuba said trying to convince working-age people to become more mobile is tricky, because it's 'pretty difficult to incentivize people' to break with social or family ties. 

"It doesn't mean we should give up on this front, but it is a difficult issue of how do you move people who have a social network with generations in the same family living in one city or in a specific area?" she said.

Another solution would be to encourage further immigration, because newcomers are generally more flexible in terms of their mobility than are locals, she said.

Still, Cociuba said that solution is also imperfect because if Canadians—newcomers and otherwise—continue having fewer children, then the problem of low population growth will remain. 

"So perhaps getting to the root cause of the problem, of why people aren't having children and how that is contributing to an aging population, that is also something that we should not forget about."