Gender, Risk and Retirement

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Sarah VICKERSTAFF, University of Kent, United Kingdom
Wendy LORETTO, University of Edinbugh Business School, United Kingdom
The public policy push to extend working lives is typically gender blind, focusing on increasing individual ‘choice’ without recognition of the extent to which the ability to exercise choice is mediated by gender, class and other structural inequalities. The differing gendered impacts of policy changes such as raising of state pension ages and abolition of default retirement ages are neglected. In the UK women have been particularly impacted by a rapidly rising state pension age. In conditions of austerity and the prevalence of gendered ageism in organisations the effect is new risks for many women and some men and retirement seems both more distant and more problematic.

These gendered effects are explored through four in-depth organisational case studies in transport, engineering and manufacture, hospitality and local government. HR managers, pension specialists, line managers, trade unionists and a range of employees were interviewed alongside examination of organisational policies and data. The research captures different organisational responses to extending working lives issues and a range of risks and opportunities that women and men face in a span of occupations. The study shows that in the context of policy change and organisational response there are winners and losers amongst older women workers but that overall women are now facing greater risks with respect to health and poverty in older age. The paper explores how women talk about retirement in this emerging context.

Theoretically the paper demonstrates how the prevailing policy narrative reduces the phenomenon to a matter of individual choices, is based on a homogenous view of older workers and frames the issue as an economic necessity isolated from current social changes in society and working life. The paper engages with the global conditions which shape precarity and risk, the individualisation of employment trajectories and the need for a feminist understanding of work.