Why are women more likely than men to extend paid work? The impact of work–family life history

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

March 15, 2014


Extending working life beyond the state pension age is a key European Union policy. In the UK, women are more likely to extend paid work than men, indicating that factors other than the state pension age play a role in working longer. Women are less able to build pension income due to their role as carer within the family. It, therefore, follows that gender inequalities over the life course continue into older age to influence need, capacity and desire to undertake paid work after state pension age. This paper explores how work, marital and fertility history impact upon the likelihood of extending employment. It uses the British Household Panel Survey’s retrospective data from the first 14 waves to summarise work–family histories, and logistic regression to understand the impact of work and family histories on extending paid work. Findings show that, on the one hand, women are extending paid work for financial reasons to make up for ‘opportunity costs’ as a result of their caring role within the family, with short breaks due to caring, lengthy marriages, divorcing and remaining single with children all being important. Yet, there is also evidence of ‘status maintenance’ from working life, with the women most likely to extend paid work, also those with the highest work orientation, prior to state pension age. But lengthy dis-attachment (due to caring) from the labour market makes extending working life more difficult. This has implications for policy strategies to entice women into paid work to make up for low independent financial resources.

Published in

European Journal of Ageing

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 11 , p.31 -39







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