Gender, the labour market and the welfare state day 2

Day 2 of the conference was much more focused on issues around older workers, retirement and aging than the first day.


There has been lots of discussion about how an aging population is likely to mean an increase in the retirement age. For the record I hate the way that the media portray this an inevitable economic reality when it is entirely a political decision. If baby boomers were capable of acting as an organised lobby they should be able to use their numbers to guarantee themselves decent retirements at my and my generation’s expense.


However the conference wasn’t really rehearsing this discussion, but rather was looking at the way older workers (including those past retirement age) relate to the labour market. Papers discussed how it was possible to look at demographic factors to predict how long people would remain in the labour market. For example whether you are married and who to makes a difference to your likelihood of retiring at an early age. Other factors that lead people to retire earlier include your health, your spouse’s health, your access to benefits and whether you have young children.


I’ll try and point out any relevant publications as they emerge as I don’t feel that I grasped enough of the details to explain exactly what the impacts of the various different demographic factors are. However, the point that who you are and your position in society is a key determinant as to how you end your working life is an important one to make. As with other career decisions these are decisions that are taken by you but not in the circumstances of your own choosing.


Another paper made the point that an individual’s likelihood of experiencing well-being in retirement is bound up with their ability to feel that they have chosen when retirement has happened. If we enter retirement voluntarily we are likely to find it a more positive experience than if we enter it kicking and screaming or if we are forced to work beyond when we really want to.


The importance of choice and individual control raises a number of social and political issues. Given them in most European countries pension norms are based on 40 years of uninterrupted relationship with the labour market it is unlikely that those who do not have this uninterrupted relationship will be as able to exercise choice about retirement as others. Putting it simply, this means that women are likely to have less choice than men as they often have interrupted relations with the labour market.


So what does this mean? Pensions are an important element that underpins career satisfaction. Currently pensions combine with other social, economic and welfare state factors to mean that the end of people’s working lives are likely to be much easier and more enjoyable if they are male and rich. This is perhaps not a big surprise – but it is still worth mentioning and quantifying as clearly as possible. If life isn’t fair it is at least worth us knowing how unfair it is and what factors contribute to that unfairness.



Things that I want to find out more about following day 2:



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