The number people aged 50 and over leaving the workforce has increased since the pandemic, reversing an upward trend in the employment rate seen since the 1990s.
New analysis of Labour Force Survey data by the Department for Work and Pensions found that over the past year the employment rate of people aged between 50 and 64 has fallen by 0.3 percentage points from 71% in 2021 to 70.7% in 2022, with many leaving work because of illness, injury or disability.
This has seen the employment rate gap between those aged 35-49 and 50-64 widen, from 14.1 percentage points in 2021 to 15.1 points this year.
The UK had seen the number of 50-64 year-olds in work rise steadily from the mid-1990s to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In 1995, just 57.2% of people in this age group were in work.
However, the DWP said part-time employment rates have fallen, which has resulted in a drop in the overall employment rate of people in this age group. Compared to 2017, the proportions of older workers in part-time employment have fallen for those aged 50-54 and 55-59.
Over 50s in work
Illness, disability and injury continued to be the main reasons why people aged 50-64 become economically inactive, according to the report. Two in five, or 1.4m people in this age group, state their health or disability as the reason they are not looking for work – this has increased by 1.3 percentage points in the past year.
A third say they have retired – a 1.1 percentage point reduction since 2021.
In April to June 2022 there were 3.6m people aged 50-64 who were economically inactive, 1.5 million of whom were men and 2.1 million were women.
However, there are still nearly 760,000 people in this age group not currently working but seeking work, albeit this figure has fallen from 810,000 in 2021.
The report also finds that:
- The employment rate of those aged 50-64 varies by region. Northern Ireland has the lowest proportion in work at 63.5%, compared with 71.2% in England
- The unemployment rate for people aged 50-64 follows a similar overall trend to the rate for people aged 35-49, with both rates tracking very closely since 2014
- In 2022, the male average age of exit from the labour market is 65.4 years, compared to 65.1 years in 2021, and 65.3 in 2020. The average woman in 2022 retires aged 64.3 – the same age seen in 2020 – up from 64 in 2021.
It has been suggested that the current recruitment market is more challenging for older workers than the conditions seen pre-pandemic, despite the increased adoption of remote and flexible working practices desired by many over 50s.
Debbie Denyar, an executive coach at Coach the Difference, said recruitment technology can be a barrier to many older workers being selected for jobs.
“Suddenly, they find themselves in a very different labour market where their CV needs to get past an applicant tracking system and interviews are virtual. Many haven’t reviewed their CV or had an interview for years. Combined with this are feelings of shock, loss of identity, status and confidence,” she said.
Ageism is rife in the recruitment market currently. I’m constantly hearing of fantastic candidates who are being passed over for job opportunities in favour of their younger counterparts.” – Julia Kermode, IWork
“Unfortunately, ageism makes the search harder. Organisations are looking for candidates who are tech savvy and adaptable, helping them to quickly respond to the rapidly changing economic landscape. Over-50s candidates need to be able to demonstrate that they bring with them experience of change and organisations need to recognise the value that brings.”
Julia Kermode, founder at freelance and contracting work consultancy IWork, said: “Ageism is rife in the recruitment market currently. I’m constantly hearing of fantastic candidates who are being passed over for job opportunities in favour of their younger counterparts. No-one admits to their prejudice but it’s definitely there.
“They’ve already been very hard hit by the pandemic, with many being forced to retire earlier than planned, something that is no longer going to be affordable with the rising cost of living. So expect more over-50s to enter the jobs market, and even more prejudice as they continue to be overlooked. We need to break this taboo and we need to break it now.”
However, Gloucester-based recuitment consultancy CKB Recruitment has seen an improvement in opportunities for over 50s due to more widespread availability of remote working.
MD Kieran Boyle said: “We have certainly noticed employers being keen to seek out more experienced candidates, with remote and hybrid working most definitely testing some employers’ level of trust for younger candidates working from home. Our clients are identifying older talent as a safer option, with the preference for training on technology to work remotely being offered rather than training entry level candidates in the office.”
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