Career pathways into retirement: linking older women’s pasts to the present

Organisation Studies

Speaker:Joanne Duberley, Professor of Organisation Studies, University of Birmingham
Date: Wednesday 9 December 2015
Time: 14.30 - 16.00
Location: Pearson Teaching Room, Buillding One

Further details

Understanding of how women’s experiences in retirement are shaped by their pre-retirement lives is limited. In this paper we utilise an innovative mix of measures to examine  the link between career histories and expectations and experiences of retirement. Analysis of timeline data capturing the long working lives of a small sample of older women identifies five different pathways into retirement. We explore these trajectories  in detail to determine how they are shaped and their links to different outcomes in later life.   The analysis shows how different career histories unfold and how they shape expectations and experiences of retirement. 


It has been suggested that the popular representation of old age in the press as a time of ‘opportunity, continued productivity, self-fulfilment and self-reliance’ (Rudman,  2006: 183) can be seen as a neo-liberal individualist agenda (Rudman, 2006) which reflects a moral imperative to remain busy and active (Ekerdt 1986).  However our findings suggest that these women’s choices were often limited.  Whilst the boundary between  work and retirement may be blurred, structural and cultural dimensions exerted a powerful influence on women’s experiences.  Traditional family structures and gender roles, the structural division of paid employment and access to pension provision underpinned  how women framed and responded to retirement.  However, the extent of the differences between the career trajectories followed even in this small sample supports an intersectional perspective which argues that gender alone does not explain the nature of women’s  careers.  Indeed, previous retirement research links factors including job tenure, health status and regional unemployment levels with an increased likelihood of working beyond pension age, regardless of gender (Finch 2013).  It has been recognised (Evetts,  2000), that women respond to cultural and structural forces in diverse ways, depending upon their capital resources. Thus although other factors such as ill-health and divorce impacted on retirement, perhaps unsurprisingly, on the whole better and crucially,  earlier  educated  women who had followed  arguably more traditionally male, professional and managerial career pathways seemed to have more choice over how they intended to or enacted retirement.  This illustrates the importance of cumulative advantage/disadvantage  in the life-course in explaining women’s experiences and expectations of retirement (Moore 2009). 
The life-course approach adopted in this paper provides a valuable means of tracing the impact of events throughout the life-course upon experiences in later life, thus highlighting  processes of cumulative advantage/disadvantage. By focussing in depth on individual experiences and accounts it is possible to identify potential patterns in the data.  The qualitative analysis is thus used to build upon and explain the patterns identified  through quantitative analysis.  Exploring complex social phenomenon such as occupational or career transitions over long working lives is difficult to do within a single paradigm; “the messiness of complexity demands multiple investigative tools” (De Lisle  2011:89). Verd and Lopez (2011) similarly suggest that the combined use of qualitative and quantitative data provides a holistic perspective that substantially improves life-course research.    For example this study shows the transformative role of education  in opening opportunities for women as mature students.  However, it also highlights the fact that although these women went on to achieve professional jobs, their expectations and experiences of retirement were fraught by  a lack of  continuous pension capital  to support them in older age.