Transitions after Fifty

Funded by: Joseph Rowntree Foundation


April 2001 to March 2002

PSI researchers:

Background, summary and aims


Levels of economic inactivity among older people aged 50 to 64 have increased rapidly in recent years; this is costly for the economy and may also have negative consequences for the incomes, health and general well-being of individuals. This has led to a growing policy interest in stimulating the participation of older people in the paid labour market and voluntary roles. However, older people are not a homogenous group, and there increasing signs of polarisation in both health and income status. Older people may vary in their capacity to take on voluntary roles, because of issues such as their income, health, caring responsibilities or location. They may also have differing attitudes to participation in such activities.


The aim of the project is to improve our understanding of the ways that older people spend their time when they are not in paid employment, and to explore the potential for increasing the contribution that older people make to their communities.

Study Design

There are 2 main elements to the research

  • Depth interviews with 48 people who are over 50 and not in paid work, from 4 contrasting areas of the UK. These will include men and women, people from different ethnic groups, and cover both those who are currently engaged in voluntary activities and those who are not. Interviews will explore respondents' expectations of life and aspirations for the future, their work histories, current activities and interests, resources, family commitments, social networks, mobility and health.
  • Focus groups at which the initial findings are presented for discussion and development with the original participants.


A number of current policy initiatives seek to encourage and support increased participation among older people who are currently unemployed or economically inactive. They include the New Deal 50 Plus, run by the Employment Service, the Older Volunteers Initiatives set up by the Home Office, and a number of mentoring schemes which aim to involve older people in mentoring disadvantaged youngsters. However, so far little is known about the factors which encourage or discourage participation in such activities, or about the different issues which may arise for people depending on their age, gender, ethnicity, health and socio-economic status and previous work experience. This research will explore the factors influencing participation in voluntary activities and identify ways in which policy could more effectively support such participation.


Forging a New Future - the experiences and expectations of people leaving paid work over 50 by Helen Barnes, Jane Parry and Jane Lakey