Saga's Tim Pethick comments "Employment is not a zero-sum game and whilst the number of over 50s in work is rising faster than the other age groups, the over 50s have not been squeezing young people out of the job market. The number of employed over 50s remains far lower than the number of employed 16-49-year-olds, and for older people once they become unemployed for whatever reason, they find it much harder than other age groups to get back into work
"Our research has shown that whilst some people have had to continue working longer than they might otherwise have planned, 88% have done so because they enjoy working and feel they benefit from the social interaction with other age groups. However, many choose to change either the hours or type of work that they do in order to ensure they can continue working for as long as possible. It's great that the increase in these figures demonstrates that employers are waking up to their valuable contribution".
Saga Flash Employment indices – December 2013 bulletin
- The UK-wide unemployment rate (for persons aged 16 and over) during August-October 2013 was 7.4%, down 0.5 percentage points on a year earlier.
- Figure 1 illustrates that the contribution of the over 50s to the job market has been steadily rising. The total number of workers in the UK grew by 4.0% between the start of this Parliament in May 2010 and August-October 2013, with employment for the over 50s rising faster than for younger workers. Over this time, the number of workers aged:
- 65 or older has risen from 800,000 in May 2010 to 1.068 million over August-October 2013, a very pronounced rise of 33.5% or 268,000 employees.
- 50-64 has risen from 7.289 million in May 2010 to 7.810 million over August-October 2013, an increase of 7.1% or 521,000 employees.
- 16-49 has increased by 1.8% or 367,000 employees, from 20.841 million to 21.208 million.
Figure 2 illustrates the over 50s’ share of UK employment is continuing to rise. Over the three months to October 2013, we calculate that:
- 70.5% of all employed people were 49 or younger, down from 71.3% one year previously.
- 26.0% of all employed people were in the 50-64 age bracket, up from 25.5% one year earlier.
- 3.5% of all employed people were 65 or older, up from 3.2% 12 months before.
- Employment is not a zero-sum game and the over 50s have not been squeezing young people out of the job market. The number of employed over 50s is far lower than the number of employed 16-49-year-olds. Over August-October 2013, there were 7.810 million employed 50-64-year-olds, versus 7.541 million one year earlier. This compares to 21.208 million employed 16-49-year-olds over August-October 2013, versus 21.101 million over the same period in 2012.
- Figure 3 shows that economic activity amongst 50-64-year-olds has been gradually trending upward compared to economic activity amongst 18-24-year-olds. Economic activity amongst 50-64-year-olds is now slightly higher than that of 18-24-year-olds. Over the three months to October 2013, we calculate that:
- 71.4% of 50-64-year-olds were economically active.
- This was just above the 71.0% of all people aged 18-24 who were economically active.
- 85.7% of those in the 25-34 age bracket were economically active.
- 86.5% of those in the 35-49 age bracket were economically active.
- Figure 4 presents a more troubling finding, suggesting that if older workers become unemployed, they are more likely to get trapped in long-term unemployment than their younger colleagues: 
- The number of long-term unemployed people aged 49 or younger stood at 2.101 million over the three months to May 2010, the start of the current Parliament – higher than the 1.983 million figure recorded over August-October 2013.
- By contrast, from the start of the current Parliament to August-October 2013, the number of long-term unemployed people aged in the 50-64 age bracket has risen from 367,300 to 379,200.
- The number of workers who are over 50 has been rising steadily. At the start of the current Parliament in May 2010 some 8.089 million UK workers were 50 or older. That figure had risen to 8.878 million over the three months to October 2013.
- At first glance, this paints an uplifting picture of over 50s’ lot in a labour market which has only just begun to build up a head of steam as the UK economy has started to recover in earnest. These data suggest that businesses have turned to older workers – perhaps valuing their skills, experience and conscientious attitudes.
- However, on closer inspection, it gives more cause for concern. Many over 50s may have chosen to continue working, postponing retirement, not because they wanted to, but because economic necessity forced them to. Falling living standards – caused by low interest rates, subdued pension returns and elevated utility price inflation – may have forced thousands of over 50s to retire later or come out of retirement.
1 A person is classified as economically inactive if they are unemployed and not looking for work. This definition will include: (i) retirees; (ii) all people aged below 16; and (iii) all school, college and university students who are no engaged in part-time/full-time work and who are not looking for such work.
2 A p
erson is defined as being long term unemployed if they are unemployed for one year or more.
See: Gustman, Steinmeier and Tabatabai (2010); Goda, Shoven and Slavov (2010) and Banks, Crawford, Crossley, Emmerson (2012).