The future face of older workers

Depending on the policy area, an older person is defined as anyone above 60 or 75 for various concessions, or 50, when it comes to sticking on the ‘older worker’ label. For the purposes of this piece let us concentrate only on older people of working age –that is, those between 50 years of age and the state pension age.

According to the latest principal population projections, there are about 9.4 million people of working age over 50 in the UK. Furthermore, figures from the Labour Force Survey suggest that 53% of these people are in full-time employment and another 17.5% are in part-time employment. Also 19% of these 9.4 million people have attained at least a first degree but another 15.7% do not hold any formal qualifications.

Using the population projections and data from the Labour Force Survey for each cohort, we estimated what the labour supply of older workers will be like with regards to economic status and skills between 2015 and 2025. That is, we analysed data for women between 35 years of age (who will turn 50 in 2015) and 57 (who will reach their state pension age in 2016, when they turn 65) and men between 35 and 59 (who will reach their state pension age in 2016). We have factored in the fact that state pension age will rise during this period –more acutely for women.

Furthermore, in order to present these results in context, we compared them with the economic activity and skills structure of current older workers. What did we find?

The following chart shows results by highest qualification. We expect that many more people aged between 50 and their respective state pension age will hold at least a first degree between 2015 and 2025 than at the moment and many fewer people will not have any formal qualifications. We also project a significant rise in the numbers that have attained at most a GCSE.

And what about their economic status? Again, compared to 2010, we forecast that there will be many more people aged between 50 and their SPA in full-time employment (between 1.5 million more in 2015 to just over 3m more in 2025) and between 1m (2015) and 2m (2025) fewer retired people within this age group.

These results are based on some restrictive assumptions – namely, that no-onewill attain a higher formal qualification between 2015 and 2025 than they currently hold – and that they will not change their current economic status either. We are currently investigating the implications of changing the latter assumption. In particular, we are interested in considering the future profile of economic status amongst older workers if since 2015 employment rates of people aged 50 and over return to their highest recorded levels –that of the second quarter of 2008.

2 thoughts on “The future face of older workers”

  1. Dear Susan,
    Thanks for reading our blog. Almost 25 years ago I was the Secretary for International Co-Operation at a private university in Argentina, and in that capacity I had the chance to meet senior managers of several universities in the world, from South Korea to the USA. I remember that a representative from one State-run American university told me that they had spent most of that year preparing scenarios to get themselves fit for the future influx of Chinese students. With around 130,000 students, in 2009/10 China was the leading place of origin of overseas students in the United States -and their numbers keep growing (
    The post described a piece of work currently under way by which we intend to peek into the future profile of the UK labour market given the ageing of our population.
    More importantly, it was an invitation to our readers to think along with us about these changes and their possible consequences.
    Economic scenario planning is far from an exact science but we think it helps shed light towards designing policies that may make our economy and workplaces better prepared for the changes ahead. Just like a number of US universities did a quarter of a century ago.

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