Public Release: 

Working in Britain survey - older workers, women

Economic & Social Research Council

Older workers, and women, some of the most contented workers, are now much more critical of the conditions attached to their work and are particularly unhappy with their working hours, says the new 'Working in Britain' survey within the Future of Work Programme funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

In the early 1990s, 61 per cent of older workers were 'completely' or 'fairly' satisfied with work. This has fallen to 48.6 per cent. On hours worked, the decline is dramatic. Only 25 per cent are satisfied with the hours they work now compared to 53 per cent earlier. The survey also reveals that older workers - 50-60 year olds - are not all better placed in terms of pensions than younger people. Where 26.9 per cent of older workers did not have an occupational pension attached to their job in the earlier survey, this is now 37.7 per cent. Middle aged workers, meanwhile, come out as much more likely to belong to a private pension scheme of their employer than older people which suggests that employers are not prepared to offer such pensions to older workers as an incentive to recruitment or for staying in the job.

Research co-director Dr Michael White comments: "A decade ago many companies reneged on their promises of long-term security and favourable retirement conditions for loyal long-service workers. Now the traditionally high commitment of this older employee group is a thing of the past. With corporate pension schemes in full retreat, we may soon see Meldrews on the march!"

Women, likewise vital to the maintenance of the size of the workforce, are also less happy at work, with 49 per cent now saying that they are 'completely' or 'fairly' satisfied, against 54 per cent eight years earlier. At the same time, there has been a significant increase in women who are 'very' or 'completely' dissatisfied with their work, from 2.2 per cent to 10 per cent. Just over 12 million women are in paid work and women are now almost as educationally well-qualified as men. But 43 per cent are in part time jobs and there are clear signs that women have not markedly improved their position relative to men.

The research in the 'Working in Britain' survey was designed by members of the London School of Economics and the Policy Studies Institute. In-depth interviews were conducted with 2,466 people in work in late 2000. A similar survey was carried out in 1992 making possible valuable comparisons on work issues. The interviews were carried out in the homes of the participants who included self-employed and work ranged right across the workforce.

Women are working on average 2.1 more hours more per week since the first survey, an increase of 7 per cent, while men are working on average 1.6 hours more per week, an increase of 4 per cent. The biggest increases in working hours were for women in their 30s and 40s, the age when many women are coping with family responsibilities.

Women in the lower categories of work were most unhappy with their hours. Women managers and higher level professionals were least dissatisfied. In 2000, 26 per cent of women in the upper echelons were 'completely' or 'very satisfied' with their hours, although this was well down on 1992 (38 per cent). For women in administration, clerical, and sales, satisfaction dropped from 61 per cent to 35 per cent, for skilled manual workers from 44 per cent to 17 per cent. Women without educational qualifications were particularly unhappy about the hours that they work, only 26 per cent satisfied against 62 per cent in the earlier survey.

Older workers were less happy in work for many reasons. But the survey identified some pluses in being older. The employer was more likely to take on board suggestions for job improvement put forward by older workers. The 50-60 year olds also tended to have longer job tenure with their current employer than did younger people. But they were less happy with the way that employers used their abilities and with the kind of work that they were doing. Only 41 per cent are satisfied in this respect against 60 per cent in the earlier survey. The satisfaction score with the variety of their work similarly declined from 60 to 41 per cent.


For further information, contact Dr Michael White, Institute of Policy Studies, Tel: 207-468-0468 email
Or Iain Stewart or Lesley Lilley, ESRC External Relations, telephone 179-341-3032/413119.

Notes for Editors
1. A report, Diversity in Britain's Labour Market, by Robert Taylor, media fellow with the ESRC's Future of Work Programme, provides a commentary on the research findings and is available on request from the ESRC

2. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of producing high-quality relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £46 million every year in social sciences research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is

3. The Future of Work Programme was launched by the ESRC in October 1998 and is helping to rectify the gaps in our knowledge. Comprising 27 projects and involving more than one hundred leading researchers across the UK, this is the most systematic and rigorous enquiry of its kind, providing evidence-based research for a better understanding of the changing world of work in a period of rapid social, technological and economic change. For further details about the programme contact Professor Peter Nolan Tel 113-233-4504.

4. REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at

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