Differing experiences of older workers

May 03 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

New research into the ageing workforce warns against viewing older workers as a single group and argues that policies aimed at keeping people in work longer need to reflect different attitudes to retirement among the older population.

A study from the Centre for Research into the Older Workforce (CROW) at the University of Surrey argues that people do not become more alike with age and their experience and attitudes to work are affected by gender, health and age.

Those with higher qualifications and income and those in professional and managerial jobs, have more positive experiences of work, and are more likely to remain in work into their late fifties and beyond. Those without qualifications, on low incomes and in routine occupations are more likely to be squeezed out in their fifties.

The study also identifies three broad categories of older workers – choosers, jugglers and survivors - each with distinctly different attitudes to retirement.

The 'choosers' are highly qualified (mostly graduates), in managerial or professional jobs and on high incomes. They have positive experiences of work and are likely to either remain in or leave the labour market as a matter of choice.

How long choosers stay in work depends on how interesting the work is. Those who are still in work will consider paid work after formal retirement. Those who choose to leave generally do so with good pension entitlements. A third are women.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are 'survivors'. They have few or any qualifications and tend to work in routine or semi-routine jobs. They have lower incomes and are vulnerable to unemployment and redundancy.

They are much less likely to have control over whether, when and how to change jobs or leave the labour market, and are less likely to view job change positively.

If they do leave the labour market, it is more likely to be for reasons of ill-health or disability, and is likely to result in poverty in later life. They are the group most likely to be living alone or be divorced or separated. A third of survivors are women.

'Jugglers' are overwhelmingly women and are found in flexible, part-time work. Though money matters to them they tend to value work more than the others.

They are spread more evenly across the social class range than the other two groups, with half in managerial, professional or intermediate jobs, and the rest in routine or semi-routine ones.

Professor Stephen McNair, director of CROW, said that each of these groups will view retirement differently and so policies needed to encourage them to work will need to reflect this.

"People are more interested in working in their 50s and 60s than is often assumed, but every older worker is different and their experience and attitudes to work are affected particularly by gender, class and health," he said.

The survey found that most older workers (78 per cent) would be willing to consider work of some sort after they formally retire. Over half would consider part-time or occasional work, and a third would consider voluntary work. However, fewer than one in ten would consider full-time work.

"Some are desperate to escape as soon as possible, others are still talking about 'promotion' and 'new challenges' in their 70s," Professor McNair added.