Women are a key source of untapped potential which we need to harness to boost economic growth in the UK.”

Cilla Snowball, CBE (Chair)

3. Staying on: supporting women’s continuing development and contribution in the third phase of their working lives

Woman in a office making note on a pad

Strategic objectives

Ensure the skills and talents of women in the third phase of their working lives are fully used and are not lost to the economy due to caring responsibilities or the changing labour market by:

  • helping individuals and businesses better balance senior roles and caring responsibilities; and,
  • supporting these women to gain the skills to work in sectors forecasting growth and experiencing skills shortages.


The ageing population

The population is ageing

% of population aged 50+

Year % of population aged 50+
2012 45%
2022 50%

… and people are retiring later

The average retirement age has been increasing for men and women, and this is likely to continue

Year Retirement age for women Retirement age for men
2010 62.3 for women 64.6 for men

… so older workers are a growing group

% of workers aged 50+

Year % of workers aged 50+
1992 21%
2013 29%

Source: ONS Population Projections, England; ONS Labour Market Statistics May 2013; ONS Pension Trends

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  • There are also personal benefits to sustaining the years of paid employment. Women are saving less for their pensions than men: a recent report found that they have almost £30,000 less on average in retirement savings than men, and over one quarter of women are not saving anything for retirement38. So, the longer they remain economically active, the longer they can maintain their standard of living.
  • This is not a homogenous group: in addition to the wide age range this third phase covers, there are disparities in levels of skill and qualifications, income and job security, and relevance of skills to the changing labour market. There are also differences in the work-life balance needed to manage caring responsibilities: with an increase in older motherhood as well as higher life expectancy, some will be combining caring for children with caring for elderly relatives.
  • There are significant barriers to tackle if we are to support these workers to achieve their full potential. Demands for skills are constantly changing in response to globalisation, changes in technology, work organisation and consumption patterns. Older workers are especially at risk from seeing their skills become obsolete. For women this is a particularly acute problem, as their levels of formal qualifications are lower than average to begin with. This helps feed into low pay, with older women earning 28% less than men39.
  • A key challenge for many women in this life stage is the need to reskill in order to take advantage of employment opportunities in growing sectors; others, including women in managerial positions, may want to reduce their hours to balance work with what are often increased caring responsibilities for children, grandchildren and ageing parents.


1. Sectors of predicted growth

Occupational segmentation is particularly stark for working women aged over 50, with two thirds of them working in just three sectors: education, health and retail40. There remains a mismatch between the sectors where women work and where job growth will be over the next decade. Some female-dominated industries and occupations are projected to grow – such as retail, caring and personal services – but these tend to be lower-paid jobs41. We must look at ways to reskill women to take advantage of the growing labour market in other areas.

If this is to happen, we must ensure the existing support mechanisms fully understand the needs and benefits of an older workforce. There is excellent practice underway in some Jobcentre Plus areas, where local flexibility is used to provide tailored support to those over 50. In West London, for example, Jobcentre Plus is working with the National Careers Service and local colleges to develop pre-employability courses and employer fairs for older customers.

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We urge the Government to reflect this flexible and local approach when delivering services to this age group, involving those using the service in its design.

What Government should do

  • At a national level, Government should work in collaboration with key business, skills and career expert organisations to steer effective change in support services for workers in the third phase.
  • Engage with relevant expert organisations at a local level to trial new approaches to support the skills development of older workers.
  • Develop effective targeted marketing campaigns to promote the work of the National Careers Service to these workers, to support them in making decisions on learning, training and work opportunities.
  • Provide specific training on the barriers faced by women in the third phase of their working lives to Jobcentre Plus staff and work programme providers.

What business should do

  • Provide unconscious bias training to staff who recruit or internally promote staff.
  • Review what the flexible working opportunities are for older workers in their workforce as part of their preparation for the extension of the right to request flexible working legislation.

2. Caring responsibilities

Caring responsibilities can significantly reduce the opportunity for women to remain in the workforce. Over one in five women aged 50-64 is a carer for an elderly or disabled family member, and women are more likely than men to be full-time carers42. One quarter of working carers report that they feel they receive inadequate support to enable them to combine work and care, and only half think their employer is “carer-friendly”43. Also, 9% of carers drop out of work and a further 7% reduce their hours to care44, and the tipping point when carers can no longer balance work with caring can be as little as 10 hours a week45.

One quarter of carers who do not work say that they would like more paid work but think there are inadequate services or access to flexible working, or do not want to lose entitlement to benefits. The benefit to the economy of providing greater support to carers to stay in work has been estimated to be as great as £750 million to £1.5 billion46. The ageing population will only increase the numbers of people trying to combine caring with working.

What Government should do

  • Increased support for carers who want to remain in the workplace through partnership working between local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships to test assistive technology and IT support for carers. Consideration should be given to using the model of the Access to Work fund, which provides grants for adaptations to support people with disabilities to join or remain in the workforce.
  • Dispel the myths that exist around the tax rules on employer-provided equipment to support home working.

What business should do

  • Join the Employers for Carers Network and put in place the toolkits to support employees who are carers.
  • Sign up to the assistive technology pilot mentioned above, which would fund adaptations and aids to allow carers to better balance their caring and work.

3. Stereotypes

Legislation is now in place outlawing age discrimination in employment, but changing attitudes and stereotypes is a slow process. Discrimination is often unconscious rather than deliberate, a reflection of ingrained stereotypes and workplace culture. Common misconceptions include:

  • Older adults find it harder to learn and to acquire new skills
  • Physiological change in older workers impairs their ability to work
  • Older workers are ill more often

These stereotypes are accepted too readily, depriving both employer and employee and hindering economic competitiveness. With the ageing workforce it is imperative that we challenge the myths.

What Government should do

  • Appoint a business champion for older workers to promote the business benefits of recruiting and retaining older workers.
  • Build on the Age Positive campaign and increase its impact. Raise awareness of the benefits that older workers with the right skills can bring to the workforce.
  • Publish a range of effective ‘how to’ guides and toolkits for employers, alongside practical solutions to help businesses adapt their recruitment and retention practices.
  • Publicise the availability of existing resources such as the ACAS guidance and Age Audit Toolkit.

What business should do

  • Leading business figures should promote the business benefits of recruiting and retaining older workers in their sector.
  • Network and share good practice on how to manage a multigenerational workforce.
Next: 4. Enterprise