It’s certainly true that if you go into any supermarket these days you will find far fewer young people on the tills. As Will Hutton observes ‘Talk to Sainsbury’s or any other major retailer and they say that they like older workers. They are more reliable, their absenteeism is lower, customers like them’ (quoted in Allen and Ainley, 2012 see link below).
There has of course been an increase in the age composition of the workforce. During most of the 1990s, fewer than 8% of men over 65 and women over 60 were in work. By 2006, this reached nearly 10% of men and 12% of women of state pension age, but it is part-time working by older workers that is particularly significant, especially amongst those who remain working as a result of their own free choice.
Three times as many over-60s work part-time as full-time and the number has more than doubled over the past 10 years. While part-time working suits many adults, particularly those who benefit from evening or weekend availability (three-quarters of part-time workers are women), surveys continue to show that it is also part-time work that is the worst paid – and hardly the sort of employment young people really want.
Older workers, who are working full-time, invariably continue in the job they already have, rather than compete with younger workers for new ones – one study showing 83% of over-65 year-olds had been with their current employer for five year; including 41% who had been there for 20 years or more. Because of the changing nature of work and the use employers make of new technologies to automate and outsource, there can be no guarantee that these workers will automatically be replaced by younger workers once they do retire.
In fact all types of employees are facing growing precariousness at work. For example, the chances of being pushed out of the work force early are increasing: by 2007, a third of men aged 55-64 and women aged 55-59 were unemployed, inactive or retired. Older workers are finding it harder than any other age group to get back into work after being made redundant in the recession with ONS figures showing 170,000 job seekers over 50 out of work for at least six months.