Employment transitions of older workers: the role of flexible employment in maintaining labour market participation and promoting job quality

Funded by: Joseph Rowntree Foundation


October 2001 to November 2002

PSI researchers:

Deborah Smeaton

Background, summary and aims

Background and Aims

The labour market experiences of older workers have changed markedly in recent decades.  Men in particular are on average leaving work earlier.   People who lose their jobs in their 50s and 60s have found it increasingly difficult to re-establish themselves in a career.  Economic inactivity among this age group has grown. Many commentators have been asking whether there are alternatives to the experience of an abrupt and perhaps premature departure from work: one possibility is for more use to be made of flexible forms of work that bridge the gap between a steady career job and retirement. 

This study explores the experience so far of such ‘bridge jobs’ in the wider context of the types of transition that are being made by people leaving work early.  Specifically, it examines the characteristics and experiences of those leaving permanent jobs between 50 and state retirement age, looks at factors associated with a move to temporary, part-time or self-employment and considers the qualities of these alternative forms of work.

Project Design

The research is based primarily upon analysis of the Labour Force Survey.  This survey is a rich dataset using a nationally representative sample of approximately 60,000 households (150,000 individuals) with a response rate of 80-85 per cent.  Demographic, educational and economic activity data are collected in considerable detail from individuals aged 16 and above.  Each quarter, a new ‘wave’ of 12,000 households is introduced and the oldest wave leaves, so that 60,000 are interviewed at any one time with each wave or panel being tracked over about 12 months.  The ability to monitor changes for individuals over time is obviously important for a study of employment transitions.  This study used a sample of entrants from spring 1997 to summer 2000, to give a sample of just under 43,000 people aged 50 years or more.

Importance of Research

The research has important implications for future retirement policy. It has significance for policy makers, academics and practitioners who have an interest in employment and retirement issues.


The findings are available in this document (pdf).