Older people and employment in Scotland: research summary

Summary of research into attitudes to an older workforce.

Older People and Employment in Scotland

Population ageing can offer opportunities for supporting longer and more fulfilling working lives

Projected old-age dependency ratio in Scotland 2014 – 2040

Projected old-age dependency ratio in Scotland 2014 – 2040

"The old age dependency ratio (number of pensionable age people per 100 working age people) in Scotland is projected to increase from 31% to 40% between 2014 and 2040."

This demographic change has prompted much policy attention on extending working lives beyond traditional retirement ages.

Promoting fair work opportunities for an ageing population could:

  • Encourage older people to work longer
  • Support older people to achieve a good balance between their employment and other important aspects of their lives

Employment among older people in Scotland is increasing

Employment of people aged 50-64

Employment of people aged 50-64

Employment rate has increased from 61.9% in 2004 to 68.8% in 2016

Employment of people aged 65+

Employment of people aged 65+

Employment rate has increased from 5.2% in 2004 to 9.1% in 2016

So.... there is significant potential for growth in the employment rate of older people

Overemployment and underemployment of older people

People aged 50-64

People aged 50-64

Overemployment of older people aged 50-64 has been steadily increasing. This suggests that older people may wish to reduce their working hours while remaining in employment.

People aged 65+

People aged 65+

In recent years, overemployment of people aged 65+ has been falling and underemployment has been increasing. Despite this, the number of over- 65s who would like to work fewer hours remains greater than the number of over-65s who want to work more hours.

Overemployment - looking to work fewer hours (for less pay)

Underemployment - looking to and able to work more hours (for additional pay)

This study explored opportunities and challenges related to the employment of older people

This study is a research commitment in the Fairer Scotland Action Plan.

Older People’s perspectives
42 interviews across central Scotland.
Mix of employed, self-employed and unemployed participants.
Participants aged between 50-71.
Range of sectors, occupations and financial circumstances.

Scottish Employers’ views
21 employers participated.
Mix of focus groups and telephone interviews.
Range of sectors and sizes.

Key findings from older people

"To be honest I don’t really need to work just now, but I’m doing it for company and for getting a purpose to get up." (male employee, aged 70)

For financially secure older people, working longer is a choice.

"It feels a wee bit like an anchor or ball and chain, work at the moment. And it’s purely financial." (female employee, aged 62)

For poorer older people, working longer is a necessity.

Key findings from older people

Many older people wanted to work part-time BUT They lacked awareness of flexible working options
Older people felt that work could be good for mental well-being BUT Physical health problems could be a barrier to working longer
Women’s caring responsibilities affected their past and present employment AND Presented a potential barrier to working longer

Key findings from older people

"I don’t think they recognise or respect the experience and skills that you come with at this age." (female employee, aged 62)

Older people were proud of their skills and experience yet feared potential age discrimination from prospective employers.

"I’ve got bits of pensions all over the place... I need to just get my head down and pull them together, and find out exactly where I am with them and when I can retire." (female employee, aged 53)

Many people faced uncertain futures, with insecure jobs and a lack of information about options for work or pensions.

Key findings from employers

Employers valued the skills and experiences of older people BUT were concerned about adopting specific policies or practices for older workers, for fear of being viewed as ageist.

Employers focused most attention on retaining existing older workers for longer BUT paid little attention to recruiting new older older workers or (re)training employees to engage in longer working lives.

"There’s nothing specific in place but it would just be open to everyone of all ages." (National public body)

Good practice amongst employers in the study

  • Offering flexible working to help balance work with other commitments or facilitate phased retirement
  • Older employees passing on knowledge and experience through mentoring younger colleagues
  • Younger employees mentoring older colleagues in new technologies
  • Adapting forms of training to suit different age groups
  • Removing age discrimination in recruitment process through training of staff in unconscious bias

Additional actions to help older people extend their working lives

What do older people need?

  • More pension-related information, presented in clear and easy-to-understand formats, to aid better planning around later working life and retirement. Most information is currently available online BUT a significant number of older people would prefer traditional paper-based communication.
  • Greater awareness of flexible working opportunities and the right to request flexible working.
  • Increased recognition of the lifetime income and pensions penalty experienced by many women, often due to time spent caring for dependents. More support could be offered to women returning to the labour market after taking time out to look after children, grandchildren or elderly relatives.
  • Job-seeking support that is tailored to meet the needs of older people. Job centre staff need to recognise the considerable skills and experience of older people and suggest appropriate employment opportunities.

Actions for Employers

  • Ensure all line managers are trained in communicating flexible work opportunities and are equipped with knowledge to deal with requests from older workers. This will help to achieve consistency of practice.
  • Implement unconscious bias training for all recruitment managers.
  • Actively include age considerations in all workforce planning, resourcing and career development strategies.
  • Engage in conversations about later-life working or retirement and ensure initiatives are sufficiently broad to allow for a range of later-life working paths.
  • Introduce mid-career reviews to recognise that employees’ needs will differ with life and career stage and prevent a downward trajectory after the age of 50.

How older people and employers thought the Scottish Government could help

  • Devise and run a publicity campaign to promote the potential benefits of longer-life working, alongside the promotion of job opportunities for the over-50s. This would increase the visibility of older workers in Scottish society. It would also help employers attract more mature workers.
  • Lead a series of events and workshops for employers across Scotland to share good practice and to discuss adoption of more age-inclusive working practices.
  • Review and promote opportunities for life-long learning alongside Further and Higher Education providers in Scotland. This could be focused on upskilling older workers in new technologies. It could also usefully address the preferences and expectations of older workers themselves around continued learning across a longer working lifecourse.



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