Observed increases in retirement age are generally attributed to policies to extend working lives (PEW). In a quasi-experimental design we examine to what extent  increases in employment of older workers can be attributed to secular changes in individual characteristics as opposed to PEW. We compare two countries: one with clear PEW (the Netherlands) and one without PEW (Norway). Data come from the Dutch Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam and the NORwegian Longitudinal study on Aging and Generations. From each study, two same-age (55-64 years) samples are selected, one recruited in 2002-03, and one recruited after five (Norway) and ten years (Netherlands). In pooled regression analysis, paid work is the outcome variable, and time of measurement, the main independent variable. Individual characteristics include age, sex, educational level, self-perceived health, functional limitations, sense of mastery, and work status of partner. Employment rose in both countries, faster in the Netherlands than in Norway. Of the rise in employment, individual characteristics explained less in the Netherlands than in Norway. Accounting for these, the  interaction country*time was significant, indicating an extra rise in employment of 5.2 and 7.5% points for Dutch men and women, net of individual characteristics and unobserved factors that are assumed to be similar in both countries. The extra rise in the Netherlands represents 57% of the total rise for both sexes. Thus, secular change in individual characteristics explains part of the rise in employment in both countries. In the Netherlands, other factors such as PEW may additionally explain the rise in employment.

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