Who would delay retirement? Typologies of older workers

Date13 April 2010
Published date13 April 2010
AuthorMatthew Flynn
Who would delay retirement?
Typologies of older workers
Matthew Flynn
Middlesex University Business School, London, UK
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to review the existing literature linked to older workers’ work
orientations and the use of typologies to identify groups of older workers according to their work and
retirement patterns.
Design/methodology/approach – The approach taken entails reviewing books and academic
journals from the area of human resource management, retirement, diversity and pensions. The paper
focuses on the industrial sociology literature as the grounding for the construction of older worker
Findings – The review of the typologies reveals that the older workforce is a wide range of workers
whose experience in work impacts their attitude toward and planning for retirement. Policy makers
cannot, therefore, take a “one size fits all” approach to designing incentives for delaying retirement.
Research limitations/implications – The main limitation of the review is that the studies which
have been reviewed are based on both qualitative and quantitative data and have focused on different
aspects of later life work, such as early retirement, ill-health retirements, pensions and staying in work
past retirement age.
Practical implications – The review has a number of practical implications for HR practitioners,
government, and trade unions who want to develop targeted incentives for older workers to delay
Originality/value – The originality of the review is that it is unique in bringing together the range
of literature on older worker typologies in order to identify overarching themes. The review found that
Titmuss’ “two nations” provides a useful model for identifying groups of older workers who are in
most need of support.
Keywords Retirement,Older workers, Industrial sociology,Incentive schemes, Resourcemanagement,
Business performance
Paper type Literature review
Across the developedworld, governments and employersare seeking ways to encourage
older peopleto delay retirement. The EuropeanCommission has set ambitioustargets for
member states to increase the economic activity. Pressures on state and occupational
pension systems; as well as ageing populations provide incentives for social partners to
look for incentives for older workers to stay employed longer.
In the UK, therehave been many studies, with the bulkemanating from the Economic
and Social Research Council’s “Growing Older” programme, the Joseph Rowntree
Foundation’s “Crossroads at 50” series, and research commissioned by the Department
for Work and Pensions and Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. If there is a
common thread throughout the range of research, it is the recognitionthat older workers
experience a rangeof work histories and, as such has different expectations ofwork and
retirement.In other words, there is not a single “older workforce”which reacts uniformly
to programmes meant to encourage longer workinglife. As people age, their experiences
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Received 12 December 2008
Revised December 2008
Accepted 26 June 2009
Personnel Review
Vol. 39 No. 3, 2010
pp. 308-324
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/00483481011030511
of, and attitudes toward, work tend to diverge rather than become more similar. There
are important publicand HR policy implications, since incentives need to be targeted to
specific work groups in order to change working patterns.
Because “one size does not fit all” in regards to work and retirement, numerous
attempts have been made by academics and practitioners to group older workers
according to shared characteristics which might lead them to respond similarly to
public and HR policies. The aim of these studies has been to inform policy makers on
how different mixes of policy could persuade different types of older workers to delay
Individuals’ retirement plans are influenced by a range of factors such as:
employment rights afforded to them by national laws; pension provision; familial
influences; and the push and pull incentives exerted by employers. Various studies
have also pointed to intrinsic work related reasons for people’s retirement decisions,
such as the degree of work autonomy they feel they have or ability to manage work/life
balance. Since Titmuss’ identification of “two nations” (Titmuss, 1958) of older people
(each with a distinct experience of work and retirement) there has been recognition of
the different types of workers who respond to various mixes of incentives to continue
working. This has resulted in a number of studies, usually supported by attitudinal or
experiential surveys, which have sought to create typologies of older workers based
upon their experiences in work and attitudes toward work and retirement.
This article will review the most prominent UK research reports which have
proposed typological models of the older workforce population. Although studies have
developed models for categorising older workers in other national contexts (e.g. AARP,
2002; Roper Starch Worldwide, 1999; Williamson and Higo, 2007), the focus of this
paper will be on a single country within which studies share common welfare, business
and legal frameworks.
Before the typologies of older workers are discussed, a brief review will be
presented of studies that have identified and tested individual predictors of work and
retirement patterns.
Predictors of later life work patterns
In addition to the development of older worker typologies, a large body of research has
examined the factors that influence older people’s work patterns and pre disposition
toward different forms of retirement. It is possible to categorise the causal factors into
four broad groups (Table I).
First, researchers have sought to identify the demographic characteristics that
influence retirement patterns. Gender appears to be a popular factor for testing,
although there is a strong debate over its influence. Kanfer et al. (2001) and Adam and
Rau (2004) suggest that women are more disposed toward longer working lives than
men in part because they live longer and are less able to afford retirement. However,
the impact of gender on economic activity is a double sided coin, an d it has been
pointed out that truncated and interrupted careers (Dixon, 2003), as well as
double-discrimination (Bernard et al., 1995), can make it difficult for women to secure
jobs in which they can stay economically active up until and beyond normal retirement
age (Bardasi and Jenkins, 2002; Gough, 2001). Labour market position can also favour
men in terms of the types of post-retirement opportunities available to them
(Lissenburgh and Smeaton, 2003).
Who would
delay retirement?

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