Press release

The number of women over 65 and seeking work reaches highest level

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Saga’s director of communications, Paul Green, releases the Saga Flash Employment Index and comments on today’s employment data and its impact on older workers:


“It is great news that there are more people of all ages in work.  However, the positive headline figures mask the difficulties faced by the long term unemployed.  Whilst this issue affects all ages, for older people they are much more likely to get stuck in long term unemployment, and we need to start thinking of creative solutions to this long-term unemployment crisis.


“For some years Saga has been campaigning for changes to Employers National Insurance to encourage employers to recruit younger people or those stuck in long term unemployed – and whilst changes have been made for recruiting younger workers it has yet to be extended to those stuck in the spiral of long-term unemployment. We would urge the Chancellor to address this in his Budget on 19th March.”


  • The UK-wide unemployment rate (for persons aged 16 and over) during October-December 2013 was 7.2%, down 0.6 percentage points on a year earlier.[1]
  • The number of Men and Women, above the age of 65, reaches its highest level since 2011.
  • 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 4.2% between the start of this Parliament in May 2010 and October-December 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 three months to May 2010 to 1.062 million over October – December 2013, a very pronounced rise of 32.8% or 262,000 employees.
    • 50-64 has risen from 7.289 million in May 2010 to 7.862 million over October – December 2013, an increase of 7.9% or 573,000 employees.
    • 16-49 has increased by 1.8% or 381,000 employees, from 20.841 million to 21.222 million.  
  • The number of workers who are 50 or older 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 8.924 million over the three months to December 2013.
  • Figure 2 illustrates the over 50s’ share of UK employment is continuing to rise. Over the three months to November 2013, we calculate that:
    • 70.4% of all employed people were 49 or younger, down from 71.1% one year previously.
    • 26.1% of all employed people were in the 50-64 age bracket, up from 25.6% one year earlier.
    • 3.5% of all employed people were 65 or older, up from 3.3% 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 October- December 2013, there were 7.862 million employed 50-64-year-olds, versus 7.628 million one year earlier. This compares to 21.222 million employed 16-49-year-olds over October – December 2013, versus 21.150 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. The economic activity rate amongst 50-64-year-olds is now slightly higher than that of 18-24-year-olds. Over the three months to December 2013, we calculate that:
    • 71.5% of 50-64-year-olds were economically active.
    • This was just above the 71.3% economic activity rate of people aged 18-24.
    • 85.6% of those in the 25-34 age bracket were economically active.
    • 86.1% 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: [2]
    • 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 1.950 million figure recorded over the three months to December 2013. This represents a 7.2% decline in the number of long-term unemployed persons in this 49 or younger age bracket.
    • By contrast, from the start of the current Parliament to October- December 2013, the number of long-term unemployed people in the 50-64 age bracket has fallen only marginally, from 367,300 to 364,400. This represents a more modest 0.8% decline in the number of long-term unemployed persons in this age bracket.
  • At first glance, this paints an uplifting picture of over 50s’ lot in a labour market which has only just begun to build up steam as the UK economy accelerated. These data suggest that businesses have turned to older workers – perhaps valuing their skills, experience and conscientious attitudes.
  • However, on closer inspection, the data gives more cause for concern. Many over 50s may have chosen to continue working, postponing retirement, partly because they enjoy working, but also for some it was because economic necessity forced them to do so. 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.[3]


Research carried out by CEBR, commisioned by Saga using the latest data from ONS.

[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 person is defined as being long term unemployed if they are unemployed for one year or more.

[3] See: Gustman, Steinmeier and Tabatabai (2010); Goda, Shoven and Slavov (2010) and Banks, Crawford, Crossley, Emmerson (2012).