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Older workers on the increase

Posted on 03 March 2011 .
Tags: attitudes to pensions, income and welfare, National Survey of Health and Development, pathways to retirement


The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has just released figures on older workers, showing that the proportion of 65 and overs in the workforce has doubled in the last 10 years. There are now 870,000 workers aged over 65 and they make up 3% of the UK workforce. While still a small proportion of the overall workforce, this is nevertheless a real structural shift. ONS has also said that employment rates among the over 65s actually defied recessionary forces by increasing during the downturn.

Of course, some will see 65 year olds as mere spring chickens. Mr Murdoch, in the news today, turns 80 next week, and shows few signs of slowing down. (True, he's not a British citizen, but he does play a big role in the life of the UK and it looks like it's about to get bigger!)

Some commentators have suggested that older people are staying on longer because of inadequate pension provision, although clearly not in Rupert's case. Others expect employment rates among older people to rise further once the default retirement age (DRA) is lifted later this year, which must surely be the case.

We've done a lot of work on retirement and pensions, and would throw a couple of things into the pot.

First, it's clear that many people are not financially well prepared for retirement. We did a study for DWP (published last year) on attitudes to pensions and retirement. Most people are unclear about when they will actually be eligible to take the state pension: only 30 per cent of men and 17 per cent of women were aware of the correct age. People tend to make the mistake of thinking that they can take the State Pension earlier than they actually will be able to. Find out the true situation here, since there's a high probability that you won't know either! And perhaps of most concern: one fifth of those approaching retirement age (those aged 55-64) have no assets to rely on: no property they own, no pension (beyond the state pension), no savings and no expectation of an inheritance. These people are very reliant on either the state pension, or working longer.

Second, we don't yet know what the various dynamics will be in terms of people staying on at work. There has been something of a run-in period, in that people have had the right to ask to stay on at work for some time. But employers have been able to say no, and have not had to give a reason. That all changes with the removal of the DRA later this year. We did another study for DWP and BIS looking at pathways to retirement.

Unsurprisingly, people's decisions about whether and when to retire are influenced by a huge range of factors including personal health and family circumstances, how challenging the organisational context is, and individual relationships with managers and colleagues. But the findings were also striking in terms of the quality of discussion between the person and employer, and how open and collaborative it was felt to be. A lot of the signals were very subtle: did, for example, the employer continue to invest in training and performance management? Or were such things felt to have lapsed into a tick box exercise? Were there consistent policies about working beyond retirement age, and crucially, were they properly applied? Failure to enter into procedures openly and in a clearly collaborative spirit were characteristic of an unhappy result and perceptions of unfair treatment.
So, in theory, the removal of the DRA hands a lot of control to employees. In practice, much will depend on how employers engage with their staff, and the subtle signals that people pick up and interpret.

And finally, while we're on the subject of turning 65: a very Happy 65th Birthday this Saturday to the participants on the UK's oldest birth cohort study: the National Survey of Health and Development. This amazing longitudinal study has been running since 1946 - read more about it here.
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