Why are more women working longer?

Beena Nadeem investigates the growing number of women working into their later years.

middle aged woman working


For 20 years 57-year-old Rae Radford ran an ironing business from her home in leafy Beckenham in Kent, all the while caring for her two sons and two stepsons.

By the time she wound the business down in 2014 and the children had all left home, she found herself itching for something else to do. It wasn’t long before she had embraced Twitter and was using it to promote her husband’s plumbing business on social media. She must have done something right, she chuckles over a chorus of barking dogs from her kitchen, “he’s a millionaire”.

All this, she says, “with us both being dyslexic. He was so dyslexic that they called him ‘thick Sean’ at school. It just goes to show – these things can make you more determined,” she says.

Rae was soon being asked to help promote other small businesses and launched hashtag hours (a networking hour online) for the area, which trended in the first week. “I thought, maybe I’m good at this,” she says. “I even managed to get Ken Barlow from Coronation Street to host a weekly online quiz… I got 130,000 followers.”

But for a very down-to-earth Rae, who spends her time trying to help women navigate what might be uncharted territory in social media marketing via www.whatsnewuk.co.uk, there is no plan for any sort of retirement any time soon. “I have to work. It’s in my bones, I can’t justify not working,” she says.

At 69 Sue Mullen still works most days and almost as much as she did when she was a full-time pharmacy manager. All of that, and she’s just finished a diploma in botanical art. “My oldest colleague is 83 and still not showing any signs of retiring. I went back as a part-time locum six months after I retired. That was seven years ago and I’m still working and enjoying it,” she says.

Meanwhile, for Lyn Kimber who worked in retail for 24 years and took a ‘much reduced’ final salary pension at the age of 52, her 17 years of official retirement have seen her launch three new businesses. Now at 69, she has renovated a barge, run a guest house in Burgundy and now runs a rental business in Aveyron, in rural south of France. “It’s a new
adventure every day,” she chirps.

More women working later in life

Women like Rae, Sue and Lyn are very much becoming more common with recent ONS figures showing that more women than ever are working past the age of 50.

This is especially true for part-timers: of the 8.6 million part-time workers in the UK today, 3.4 million of them are over 50 – an increase of 912,000, or 37% in a decade.

Pension gap

But the reasons for this increase aren’t always wholly to do with choice. Rachel Carrell, chief executive of childcare company Koru Kids, says: “We’re seeing more older women entering the childcare profession through a combination of want and need.  Many in their 50s and 60s are struggling with the gender pension gap, meaning they still need to work, and often if they’ve spent several years out of the workforce it can be tricky to find other kinds of job, and they frequently report facing age discrimination. But many also want to give back, be the support they wish they’d had when they were young mums.”

There is indeed a large cohort of women who have been hammered by indiscriminate changes to the pension age which affects women who were born in the 1950s. These women, part of campaign group Backto60, were unaware and therefore unprepared for the sudden increase to pension age from 60 to 65. They say they did not have enough time to make adjustments to cope with years without a state pension. The situation is further exasperated as many of these workers, who worked part time,  were prevented from paying into company pensions – something that only changed in the late eighties.

Campaigners against pension change

Earlier this month Backto60 lost their battle to the High Court to seek a judicial review of the decision to raise the pension age.

Just weeks ago, BackTo60, alongside Unison, delivered a letter to Boris Johnson calling on him to pay out the money owed to 3.8 million women whose pensions have been delayed by up to six years. And it seems that, for many of these women, the cost runs deeper than just financial.

According to the campaign group’s 2017 survey looking into the impact of the pension age increase, more than 90% of women said the issue had affected their mental health, confidence, retirement plans and caused ill health, while a staggering 20% said they’d had suicidal thoughts because of it.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons why women are working later in life: More opportunities, healthier and longer lives, fulfilment, greater emancipation and simply not being ready to consider ‘retirement’. But for many, not being able to draw on a much-needed pension pot has forced them to work beyond an age that they had planned for.

Whatever brings you to that point, Rae says it’s worth noting: “You spend so much of your life trying to please other
people. When you get older, you think stuff other people’s opinions. You get to the point where you’re comfortable with yourself and that means trying new challenges.”

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