Older Workers: Expectations, Preferences and Barriers

Funded by: Equality and Human Rights Commission


December 2008 to September 2009

PSI researchers:

Deborah Smeaton

Sandra Vegeris

Background, summary and aims

Extending working life has become a policy priority for government, in response to the projected consequences of an ageing population, a corresponding drop in support ratios for pension provision, escalating costs of state benefits, and an increasing number of older people in poverty. Despite recent expansion of employment among older people (Bridges and Disney, 2005), by 2007 one third of men aged 55-64 and around one third of all women aged 55-59 were nevertheless unemployed, inactive or retired ( Smeaton and Vegeris, 2008). Push factors include ill health, redundancy, discrimination and caring responsibilities. Pull factors are largely associated with advantaged circumstances and individuals choosing to leave work before retirement age to pursue other interests. Yet exposure to what can enable or impede work in later life is not equally distributed among individuals.

A range of measures have been introduced over recent years to facilitate and prolong employment including: age discrimination legislation; raised state pension ages; an extension of flexible working regulations to carers; and welfare reform with an increased emphasis on capacity combined with in-work financial incentives . While many welcome the burgeoning range of employment initiatives, evidence suggests some resistance to this agenda among older workers themselves (Loretto and Vickerstaff 2007, Esser 2005, Philipson & Smith 2005, Vickerstaff et al, 2008) and structural disincentives remain strong (Macnicol, 2008).

A large body of research explores causes of early exit from employment, charting pathways into inactivity, unemployment and early retirement for workers over the age of 50 (Burchardt, 2003, Jenkins & Rigg 2004, Disney et al 2006, Capellari et al 2006). Other studies have focused on retirement decision making and planning (Mcnair et al 2004, Phillipson 2002, Barnes and Taylor 2006). Far less research has systematically investigated the actual preferences and aspirations of older people in relation to work and other lifestyle choices, or the extent to which decisions are made out of choice or necessity and what obstacles prevent the pursuit of preferences. The aim of the study is therefore to enhance understanding of:

  • Employment preferences and experiences of older people aged 50-75
  • Barriers faced by older people in achieving their preferences
  • Potential solutions to enable preferences, whether found at the level of government, trade unions, public and private service providers, employers or individuals.
  • Retirement planning

A mixed methods approach to the study is taken, using stakeholder interviews, a survey of 1,250 older people aged 50-75 and interviews with employers.