Posts Tagged 'retirement'

One size does not fit all: the problem of extended working life policy

Áine Ní Léime and Debra Street, co-editors of Gender, ageing and extended working life, launching today at the British Society of Gerontology conference, discuss problematic extended working life policies, and their potential consequences for both women and men in later age. 

Debra Street

Áine Ní Léime

“How can affluent countries “afford” pensions for ageing populations?

Some policymakers prefer one answer—people should simply work longer, thus cost less. Increased longevity makes policies to extend working lives appear logical and seem potentially benign.

Favoured initiatives range from increasing state pension ages, requiring higher/more frequent worker pension contributions, eliminating mandatory retirement, and introducing anti-age discrimination legislation. They run concurrently with the broader neoliberal agenda of pension privatisation, making individuals (rather than employers and governments) more responsible for providing their own pensions or working to much later ages.

“Extended working life policies focus almost exclusively on reducing state pension costs…”

Such policies are highly problematic and reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the complexities of current employment arrangements and future job markets. Extended working life policies focus almost exclusively on reducing state pension costs, with scant attention to existing gendered differences across the life course, whether associated with adequate pay and flexibility to balance work and family responsibilities, working longer, or amassing pensions.

The upshot: women and men, unsurprisingly, would fare quite differently.

 

Back to the future: work ’til we die?

Workers in physically demanding and/or stressful jobs such as construction, cleaning or caregiving are likelier to have chronic health conditions or to be worn out by work as they approach the traditional state pension age, usually 65. Many started work at younger ages than the more advantageously employed, so they may already have spent 45 or more years at work by age 65.

Increasing state pension age requires them to work longer still. This punitive measure ignores their experience of already extended working lives, albeit at the younger end of the adult life course. It is unfair to deprive them of the choice to stop or work longer.

Because gender norms designate women as the primary providers of unpaid care for children and others, many have employment histories punctuated by breaks in paid work or long spells of low- paid, part-time employment to juggle work and family responsibilities.

Demanding work to older ages and greater pension contributions to qualify for minimum and maximum state contributory pensions makes it more difficult for women to get a full state pension and greatly increases their risk of poverty in old age.

Extended working life policies assume demand for older workers. Yet little evidence suggests that is true. Research on age discrimination in employment shows that jobs for older workers are typically scarce and poorly paid, if unemployment happens as it did during the recent recession.

Older women seeking employment face the “double whammy” of ageism and sexism, rendering women ”socially older” than comparably aged men, making re-employment more difficult. Precarious work is growing in all countries and, while women traditionally predominated in the precarity, men are increasingly relegated to non-standard work.

Many women and all precarious workers have episodic pension contribution patterns that make poverty in old age more likely. Finally, privatising pensions is especially detrimental to women’s pension provision, since they are typically in lower paid jobs that make private pension contributions unaffordable.

 

Where do we go from here?

The way forward is not obvious. There is a need for more thoughtful, flexible policies, if women, workers in physically demanding and/or stressful jobs, or those in precarious employment are to be expected to work longer.

To understate, we are not particularly optimistic that such adequately enlightened policies will be enacted.

“An adequate universal citizen’s income is one policy refinement that could offer a genuine choice to people nearing retirement age.”

Working longer offers a welcome option for some workers in rewarding, interesting, physically undemanding occupations, but it should not be a requirement for all workers. Calls for an adequate universal citizen’s income is one policy refinement that could offer a genuine choice to people nearing retirement age.

Since women and precariously employed individuals are more likely to depend on safety-net state pensions, a citizen’s income would benefit them most. Unfortunately, debating the merits of citizens’ incomes does not implement them and evidence of policy appetites for such proposals is disheartening.

It seems obvious that the fragility of labour markets for workers of all ages should give policymakers pause before assuming (as they seem to have done so far) that rising pension costs can be stemmed by unilaterally extending working life for all. Such policies will inevitably fall far short of expectations, given that they ignore real experiences of working lives shaped by gender and other work/life circumstances.

‘One-size-fits-all’ extended working life policies—undifferentiated for women and men, for physically demanding work and white collar occupations, for the precariously and the securely employed—are clearly neither benign, nor logical, nor capable of meeting the varied economic needs of ageing individuals.

Gender, ageing and extended working life edited by Áine Ní Léime et al. is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £60.00.

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As pension ages rise, what are our prospects for working longer?

In March of this year the UK government began its long-term review of state pension ages, with a number of commentators predicting large increases in the age of eligibility. David Lain, author of Reconstructing Retirement, sets the context for this review by considering wider changes to retirement policy.

David Lain 4It is commonly said that retirement is changing, with people increasingly expecting to do some form of paid work after ‘retirement’ age.

Sara Rix from AARP, for example, reports perceptions from the US that Baby Boomers will ‘reinvent and/or revolutionise retirement… they will… combine work and leisure in new and more rewarding ways’.

Increasing employment

In reality, however, it is arguably governments that most want us to ‘rethink’ retirement. In my view UK and US governments are actually seeking to reconstruct retirement, by increasing employment at age 65+ and dissolving the notion fixed retirement ages. They are doing this in two ways. Continue reading ‘As pension ages rise, what are our prospects for working longer?’


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