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Number of older working women rises for the first time in UK

written by Bella Palmer

The number of older women in work has increased by 51% since changes to the state pension age were introduced in 2010, reveals ONS data

For the first time in the UK, there are more women aged 60 to 64 in work than not, according to an analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics.

The number of older women in work has increased by 51% since changes to the state pension age were introduced in 2010, the data reveals. This contrasts with an increase of 13% in the number of working men aged between 60 and 64 over the same period.

Experts have described the increase as “seismic”, with profound implications for the economy and for women in later life.

Supporting people aged 50 and over to remain in the workforce could add an additional 1.3% to GDP a year by 2040. But while it is an opportunity for some women, for others it is the “culmination of inequalities that have built up over a lifetime, remaining in low-paid, insecure or poor quality work and delaying retirement through financial necessity, said Patrick Thomson, programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better.

For many other women this will be a positive choice, with work providing financial independence, an opportunity to save for retirement, meaning and purpose, he added. The rising state pension age has clearly had an impact on women’s working lives. But while longer lives and changing patterns of work mean many of us can expect to work for longer, it’s vital that people are able to be in work that improves their current and later lives.

Because of the delays to women’s state pension, Julie Kumalinga is only able to retire because she can rely on her husband’s pension. Aged 60, she is on a zero-hours contract as a passenger assistant for children with special needs. Before that, she spent a decade working for a care company that did not have a pension scheme.

If I was single, I wouldn’t be able to afford to retire at all, she said. It’s grossly unfair: no women should be forced into poverty in retirement.

Kathryn Morgan, a corporate business trainer aged 61, is keen to continue working. Morgan divides her time between the UK and teaching in Slovakia. “I don’t think I will ever retire as long as I’m healthy,” she said.

Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, a jobs and volunteering site for over-50s, said: The rapid increase in the women’s state pension age since 2010 has had a profound impact on women in their 60s: the employment rate of women aged between 60 and 64 has increased from 34% to 51% in just 10 years.

But as well as adjusting to the financial implications of the new state pension age, the added frustration for many comes from the continued challenge to find meaningful work in their 60s when age discrimination in the workplace remains all too prevalent, he added.

Patrick Thompson of the Centre for Ageing Better said: This is a seismic shift, with profound implications for the economy and for women in later life.

David Sinclair, the director of the UK International Longevity Centre, warned that while in recent decades there have been increases in employment levels of older people, “we shouldn’t get too excited”.

The employment rates of men, for example, were actually higher in the 1960s. We’ve got a long way to go if we want to maximise the longevity dividend, he said.

Too many older people are forced out of the workforce too early, whether that is due to ageism or poor health. Too many people want to work longer but can’t, he added. Good work can be good for us. But if the additional jobs are not good jobs, we could be simply storing up problems for the future.

Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, said: We are calling on the government to make sure they factor in the reality of life for middle-aged people before making any decisions about further raising the state pension age.

Age UK is firmly of the view that the triple-lock needs to stay in place, because it is not yet ‘job done’ when it comes to eradicating pensioner poverty – which is now on the rise yet again with 2 million older people living below the poverty line, she said.


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