Working Longer and Older – National Statistics Labour Market Figures

The National Statistics Labour Market figures, for the December 2018 to February 2019 period, showed the employment rate for those aged 16-64 was 76.1%, up 0.7% year-on-year and the joint-highest figure on record. A closer look at the figures shows that the total number employed rose by 457,000 between December 2017-February 2018 and December 2018-February 2019. Of this increase, 320,000 (70%) were aged 50 and over. In the subset of those aged 65 and over, the employment numbers increased by 82,000 (6.8%) to 1,282,000.

Drill further into the data and, as the graph above shows, the increase in workers aged 50 and over is being driven by a growth in the number of women working for longer. At the start of the millennium, the employment rate for women aged 50-64 was 52.6% and for those aged 65+, 3.6%. The latest figures are 68.1% and 7.9% respectively. In just over 14 years, the proportion of women aged 65 and over in work has doubled.

The graph shows a clear upward drift for both sexes from the start of the millennium, with women outpacing men. The ratcheting up of State Pension Age (now at least 65¼ for both sexes) is undoubtedly one reason, as is the fading coverage of defined benefit pension schemes. The skew towards higher employment rates at older ages may even be part of the explanation of why productivity growth has been so slow, despite such a low unemployment rate (3.9%) and rising wages (3.5% including bonuses).

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