Team meeting, older and younger.

Third-ager is ‘the period of your life between middle age and old age, when you are still active’, says the online Macmillan dictionary. [i]

But many are not active enough, according to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, that found so many 50 to 64 year olds have taken early retirement it is damaging the UK economy.

The report, ‘Where have all the workers gone?’ found not only was it the biggest reason jobs remained unfilled, holding back growth, but the Exchequer is missing their contributions, putting pressure on already stretched public finances.

‘That’s why it’s critical the Government does more to understand the causes of increased inactivity, and whether this trend is likely to persist,’ said Lord Bridges of Headley, the Chair of the Committee.

Now the government is planning to encourage the early retirees back to work with a ‘midlife MOT’, which is aimed at showing them that, basically, with the cost of living crisis exacerbating, they can’t afford to retire and need to keep on working.

Tackle the real reason for early retirement

But there needs to be a deeper dive into the real reason many have retired early.  People who don’t feel valued in the workplace are less likely to stay in their roles, and at age 50 most employees experience the ‘glass ceiling’ syndrome, where the corporate culture tells them their prospects, even training, are lessened.   Victoria Tomlinson, Founder and Chief Executive of Next-Up, an organisation working against prejudice in the workforce warned, ‘Older people have a wealth of valuable experience but do not feel their employers recognise it. Yet, potentially losing the older workforce is counterintuitive to the current skills crisis.’

Who wants to stay working in an organisation whose culture essentially diminishes their sense of value once they reach 50?

Even if they want to return to work (and some grow bored and would like to),  the over 50s face another barrier – the invisible prejudice against older people.  It often isn’t because of myths as many younger people have experienced their skills and talents in their organisation.  It’s more based on ‘fit’ and ‘positioning’ in the organisation.  Although she may not fall into the professional category the government has in mind, the experience of an older carer reflects what so many over 50s have found.  Denise works in the care sector, and told her story to Age UK.

She said, ‘‘the people who do the recruiting and managing are young. I think some of them feel intimidated because I do have a lot of experience and a few more life skills under my belt. A lot of younger people think that you are after their job ‘Oh … she’s overqualified.’ But I really don’t want their job. I’m not interested in going up the ladder, and having a career. I have done all that. I only want to do what I do, get paid and go home.

‘I went for a job in a nursing home, I could have done the job with one hand behind my back, after 15 years of days and nights in the NHS and other healthcare settings. They said I was over-qualified. But either they think I’m too old or they don’t want somebody coming in who will rock the boat.’ [ii]

‘Over-qualified’ is something people I know have encountered.  ‘We would rather train someone up our way,’ they’ve been told.  Even those who would happily trade down for a less stressful, more supportive role in their industry are seen as a competitor to young interviewers.

Some early retirees want to go back to work because after a while they miss the social aspects and the sense of purpose.  Others take up voluntary work.  But until the government tackles the main inhibitor to returning, the invisible virus of ageism, they’ll be rowing upstream in their efforts to get them back into work.



Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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