Public Release: 

From young workers to older workers: Reflections on work in the life process

Economic & Social Research Council

As older workers approach 65 and the official retirement age, many say that they want the Government and employers to be more flexible over retirement age so that they can continue working if they desire. They think that people should be able to retire before 65 or continue to work if that is what they want. Many of those interviewed now want to go on working as they think they still have much to offer their employers. However, they do not want the official age of retirement to rise from 65 years as is now being mooted by Government.

The research project by the Centre for Labour Market Studies at the University of Leicester, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, was able to draw on the thoughts about work and retirement of 97 people who were among over 800 first interviewed by academic researchers as they left school in Leicester to start their working lives in the early 1960s.

The new research found that people's experience of 40 years of work differed in many respects from that predicted by authors in the 1960s and 1970s. Working lives had been much more mixed and complex.

Only half of the workforce had achieved any qualifications at school or post school and only one third said they had enjoyed work-related training. None of the school leavers from the original 1960s study went on to higher education and only about one third undertook any formal training at work. Despite this some moved into 'middle class' jobs as time went on. Those in more 'middle class' jobs had far greater job stability, averaging fewer than five jobs through their working life. Those without skills tended to have many more jobs and moved in and out of the labour market more frequently. Many of those who had moved jobs frequently now faced retirement without an occupational pension and with some anxieties about the future.

The research reveals the extent to which people had to adapt to change in the Leicester economy in contrast to the labour market stability that had been predicted in the 1960s and early 1970s. For example, some men had trained in engineering and in the traditional boot and shoe and hosiery industries. As these industries declined, they had entered less skilled work such as preparing food for the snacks and sandwiches business. Despite working in different industries and not using their skills many of the older workers had kept what the researchers call "a very strong sense of occupational identity" which had been formed in their first skilled jobs.

Manufacturing is still the most important industry among those interviewed, however, claiming 28 per cent of the respondents, followed by the service industry at 18 per cent, and 11 per cent in each case in retail and construction.

From the original research it was clear that women had shown themselves to be much more interested in undergoing training in the 1960s even if it meant lower wages initially. Despite this most women were pushed into low status and low skilled jobs by youth employment officers and parents. Most of the boys, meanwhile, had few ambitions for learning and wanted to leave school as soon as possible to earn money.

Now, the same people are often not eager to retire. They want to have the choice to work beyond the retirement age if their employers will keep them. If not, they say that they will look for another job, probably part-time. The researchers argue that many respondents have unrealistic expectations of retirement and when they think about retirement they visualise a life of endless leisure and holidays. Many had given little thought to the prospect that they would be less well off in retirement. Likewise, they chose not to think that they might suffer from poor health. As in other 'transitions in the life course' the prospect of retiring "is mediated to some extent by 'fantasy' and 'reality' elements", say the researchers.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Dr John Goodwin
0116-252-5944

Henrietta O'Connor
The Centre for Labour Market Studies
University of Leicester
tel: 0116 252 5952
jdg3@le.ac.uk

Alexandra Saxon or Lesley Lilley at ESRC
01793-413032/413119

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  • The research project 'From young workers to older workers: reflections on work in the life process' was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Dr John Goodwin and Ms Henrietta O'Connor are at the Centre for Labour Market Studies, University of Leicester, 7 Salisbury Road, Leicester KE1 7QR.

  • Methodology: The research began with a secondary analysis of 854 interview schedules from school leavers in Leicester conducted between 1962 and 1964. This was followed by a visit to the archived collection of Norbert Elias, in Germany, which is the only source of documentary evidence on that project. Re-interviews of 200 of the original respondents was planned. This had to be reduced to 97, around 18 per cent of the original sample, because of problems in tracing the original respondents. These were mostly men since most women had changed their names and were difficult to trace.

  • The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £123 million every year in social science and at any time is supporting some 2,000 researchers in academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences to nurture the researchers of tomorrow. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

    This year the ESRC's series of annual informed public debates is centred around the theme of 'Ageing Britain - Shades of Grey'. By 2025 the number of people in Britain over the age of 60 will outnumber those under 25. What challenges does this pose for our society?

    There are three debates in the series:
    22nd November, Local Government House, Smith Square, London
    29th November, St David's Hotel, Cardiff
    6th December, The Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow

    For more information contact email jacky.clake@esrc.ac.uk

  • ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research (formerly accessible via the Regard website) and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

  • The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. This research has been graded as 'outstanding'.

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