In Canada, public policy sets only a very broad framework concerning older worker issues. Few Canadian firms have explicit policies dealing with the ageing of their workforces but many firm policies have unanticipated consequences for older workers and the age composition of the workforce. Focusing on downsizing, we draw on five Canadian case studies of firms in different sectors and with varying policy initiatives. We emphasize the importance of firm-level policy formation and note that demography, technology and the economy do not have highly determining roles in corporate policy formation. There is little evidence of explicit managerial concern for older worker issues. However, some firms actively, and others functionally, promote a weakening of the ties linking employees to the firm. This breaking of the old contract between firm and employee signals a shift toward greater individualism, and has structural and social psychological consequences for the life course. The concept of the progressive career, involving long-duration employment with a company and successive promotions up a corporate ladder, is eroding. To contextualize these findings, we briefly describe the Canadian population and relevant economic, labour force and public policy data. The Geneva Papers on Risk and Insurance (2003) 28, 625–639. doi:10.1111/1468-0440.00250
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