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Purpose – Although the world is rapidly ageing, the alarming explosion of youth unemployment seems to have removed the workforce ageing issue as a priority from the policy agenda. The purpose of this paper is to test and investigate the main needs and willingness to work among the older population, as well as the main advantages for organizations employing older workers. Design/methodology/approach – The main research objectives were: first, to explore the effect of demographic and socio-economic predictors on an older person’s intention to work; and second, to focus on the main advantages that should induce organizations to retain older workers in their workplace. The paper is based on a survey and an interdisciplinary review of the literature. Findings – The study indicated that educational level led to improved active behaviours in the labour market. In other words, people who obtained a higher level of education showed a greater likelihood to desire a prolongation of working life, while lower educational attainment may have lessened the willingness and capacity of older people to remain in the workforce. The main benefits for organizations with older workers are highlighted. Research limitations/implications – The survey has a number of limitations: the sample is small and was completed with reference to a single country, making it difficult to generalize results beyond this country study; the questionnaire relied solely on a few areas, while it would be better to gather additional information; the survey only targeted retired people, while it would have been interesting to also collect answers from workers nearing retirement. The association between individuals’ educational levels and their intention to work in later life suggests that continued development of educational programmes for workers could favour greater retention in the workplace. Practical implications – As the ageing population is an increasing phenomenon, the participation of older people in the labour force and lifelong learning should become commonplace in the perspective of a more equitable society. The main challenge is to rethink retirement, by abolishing the mandatory retirement age and by providing more flexible work options. Social implications – Changes in national system and corporate strategies are required to meet the economic challenges of ageing populations. Originality/value – This study advances research on age management because it provided evidence that educational background plays a fundamental role in determining the willingness to return to work. In addition, the paper proposes a new integrated approach of sustainable social change.