Older people's experience of paid employment: participation and quality of life

Project lead: Professor Ivan Robertson

Research team

  • Professor Ivan Robertson

  • Professor Peter Warr

  • Ms Vicky Butcher

  • Ms Militza Callinan


November 1999 - February 2002


Professor Peter Warr
Institute of Work Psychology
University of Sheffield
Mushroom Lane
Sheffield S10 2TN

Tel: 44+ (0)114 222 3528
Email: p.warr@sheffield.ac.uk


This research project is broadly concerned with labour force participation at older ages; specifically, the relationship between participation in paid work and psychological well-being and the possible determinants of labour force participation at older ages. The recent and continuing demographic shifts have resulted in an expected shortage of younger workers coupled with an increasing proportion of older workers. This shift and the economic environment have combined to highlight the need to address the issues relating to older people and their labour force participation.

The cost to the UK of the falling rate of economic activity in those aged 50 and above is vast and the financial pressure on many older people to work due to inadequate pension income and savings has also been recognised. In spite of these individual and societal reasons for older individuals to participate in paid employment, there remains a significant decline in the labour force participation, of older men in particular.

Those individuals who continue to work at older ages and beyond normal retirement ages have reported financial considerations as their main motivation. However, there are often important non-financial benefits from paid employment such as, liking the work itself, friendship, avoiding boredom and gaining the respect of others. Alternatively, it is possible that for some individuals, paid employment at older ages may be associated with declines in well-being and quality of life. Thus, the changing population structure, and economic pressures ensure that it is essential to explore the impact of work on the health and quality of life at older ages.

Aims and objectives

The relationships between paid work and well-being at older ages, the role of paid work in older people's lives, and the possible individual and situational factors determining the choice to continue or give up paid work at older ages will be examined in this study.

This research focuses on people between 50 and 74 years old and has two major aims:

  • To investigate determinants of participation in paid employment in this age group, taking into account factors such as individuals' physical health and financial circumstances.

  • To examine the benefits or problems experienced by older people in relation to participation in employment and activity in later life. Again, factors such as physical health and income levels will be taken into account.

Study design

Data is being collected from four groups of people between the ages of 50 and 74:

  • People in paid work and below retirement age.

  • People in paid work and above the retirement age.

  • People who are unemployed.

  • People who are economically inactive.

Data will be gathered by two separate means:

  • A comprehensive postal questionnaire - The data collected by this method will include: demographic and other individual details, e.g., age, ethnic origin, marital status, caring responsibilities, physical and mental health status, financial status and income, education, current employment status and previous work history and work related attitudes; situational details, such as opportunity for interpersonal contact, variety, opportunity for control, levels of leisure and voluntary activities

  • Psychological tests - After completion of the questionnaire, participants are able to choose whether to join the second phase of the research. This involves administration of psychological tests of personality and ability. A smaller number of participants will be involved in this second phase of the study.

The general types of statistical relationships to be investigated are:

  • Direct relationships - between one variable and another. For example, high employment commitment is related to participation in paid work, and adequate income without labour force participation is associated with non-participation in paid work.

  • Additive relationships - where some combination of variables is related to a dependent variable. For example, a low level of education, low employment commitment and a perception of adequate income without labour force participation are related to non-participation in paid employment.

  • Interactive relationships – where the nature of the direct relationship between one variable and another is influenced by one or more of the other variables. An example might be: high levels of the personality factor extraversion are related to psychological well-being but this is moderated by the opportunity for interpersonal contact.

Policy implications

If it becomes imperative to encourage older individuals to participate in the labour force, policies and practices must be informed by research findings to ensure the needs of these individuals are considered. Determining why some older people choose to continue in paid employment and others remove themselves from the labour market, will help to ensure the human resource practices aimed at recruiting and retaining older workers are based on sound knowledge and scientific evidence.

Thus, the research findings will provide an important source of evidence to inform the development of new human resource strategies and practices affecting older workers. Knowledge about the range and nature of diversity, within older individuals of labour market age, will help organisations construct reasoned proactive strategies to tackle these issues.

The long-term result will be the creation of a more sophisticated explanatory model on which to base the employment policies affecting older workers. This model will specify the joint influences of people and their situations in determining the well-being and the presence in the labour market of older individuals.