Companies with fewer staff aged over 50 have higher productivity

Thursday 8 September 2016

British companies have enjoyed higher productivity than German firms recently partly because they employ fewer staff aged over 50, research says.

The reason older staff are a drag on productivity is that companies are less likely to train them, the British Sociological Association’s conference on work, employment and society in Leeds will hear today [Thursday 8 September].

Dr Wen Wang, of the University of Wolverhampton Business School, analysed survey data on 1,501 UK firms from 2010-2012.

She found that 55% of UK firms reported productivity increases in those years, compared with 47% of German firms.

The strongest drag on productivity was the proportion of staff aged over 50s employed.

Because UK firms had a lower proportion of older staff than in Germany this had boosted their performance. The data showed that 57% of German firms had workforces in which at least a fifth of staff were aged over 50, compared with only 41% of British companies.  

Dr Wang found that for UK companies, each 1% increase in staff aged over 50 made it 29% less likely that the firm had increased its labour productivity.

She also found that the higher the proportion of over-50s, the less likely it was that the company had formal training and appraisal systems.

“This indicates that older workers may be discriminated against when training opportunities are offered, which may constrain their ability to contribute,” Dr Wang told the conference.

She also found that other factors raised productivity:

  • having more staff with degrees raised productivity – 55% of UK firms had a fifth or more of their staff with degrees, compared with 30% of Germany firms.
  • companies that had introduced new ways of marketing and new products or services scored higher in productivity.
  • companies whose staff rated their work ‘climate’ – how good they felt about the job – highly were more productive.

The survey results also showed that 51% of British firms said their financial situation had improved since 2010, compared with 30% of German firms.

The proportion of UK companies reporting high absenteeism was 7% in the UK in 2012, compared to 28% in Germany.


1. Dr Wang studied results from the European Company Survey carried out in 2011 and 2012, in which UK and German companies were asked about the period between 2010 and 2012. Companies are recorded as having high absenteeism where their managers agree with the statement ‘High absenteeism is a challenge at the workplace’.

2. The British Sociological Association’s work, employment and society conference takes place from 6 - 8 September 2016 at the University of Leeds.

3. The British Sociological Association’s charitable aim is to promote sociology. The BSA is a Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235

For more information, please contact:

Tony Trueman
British Sociological Association
Tel: 07964 023392