16 June 2016, 01:00

Economic activity for 50 to 64 year olds continues to trend upwards

Exclusive analysis of new ONS empoyment data for Saga shows that more over 50s are in work.

Key points:

  • After four consecutive readings of 5.1%, the UK-wide unemployment rate (for persons aged 16 and over) fell to 5.0% in the three months to April 2016. This compares to the 5.5% recorded over the same period a year earlier.
    • Similarly, the unemployment rate for those aged 50-64 fell from 3.7% to 3.6% in the three months to April.
  • Figure 1 illustrates that the contribution of the over 50s to the job market has been rising steadily. Over the past five years, the total number of people in employment in the UK has grown by 7.3%, with employment for the over 50s rising faster than for younger workers. Over this time, the number of workers aged:
    • 65 or older has risen from 895,000 in the first quarter of 2011 to 1.18 million in Q1 2016, a very pronounced rise of 32.2% or 288,000 employees.
    • 50-64 has risen from 7.43 million in the first quarter of 2011 to 8.49 million in Q1 2016, an increase of 14.4% or just over 1 million employees.
    • 16-49 has increased by 3.8% or 803,000 employees, from 21.11 million to 21.92 million.
  • The number of workers who are 50 or older has been rising steadily. Five years ago, some 8.32 million UK workers were 50 or older in the three months to April 2011. That figure had risen to 9.68 million between February ā€“ April 2016.
  • Figure 2 illustrates that the over 50sā€™ share of UK employment is continuing to rise. Over the course of the first quarter of 2016, we calculate that:
    • 69.4% of all employed people were 49 or younger, down from 69.8% one year previously.
    • 26.9% of all employed people were in the 50-64 age bracket, up from 26.5% one year earlier.
    • 3.7% of all employed people were 65 or older, unchanged from 12 months earlier.
  • Employment is not a zero-sum game and the over 50s have not been squeezing young people out of the job market. The number of employed over 50s is far lower than the number of employed 16-49-year-olds. Over February - April 2016, there were 8.49 million employed 50-64-year-olds, versus 8.24 million one year earlier. This compares to 21.92 million employed 16-49-year-olds over February - April 2016, versus 21.73 million over the same period in 2015.
  • Given the introduction of the National Living Wage at the beginning of April and the impact this has on the cost of over 50s labour relative to workers below the minimum age requirement, the continued strong growth in over 50s employment in the latest data is encouraging.

  • Figure 3 shows that economic activity[1] amongst 50-64-year-olds has been gradually trending upward compared to economic activity amongst 18-24-year-olds, which has been generally flat. The economic activity rate amongst 50-64-year-olds is now above that of 18-24-year-olds. Over the three months to April 2016, we calculate that:
    • 73% of 50-64-year-olds were economically active.
    • This was above the 70.8% economic activity rate of people aged 18-24.
    • 85.9% of those in the 25-34 age bracket were economically active.
    • 86.3% of those in the 35-49 age bracket were economically active.

  • However, both the number of people aged 16-64 considered inactive because of retirement and the rising economic activity rate of the over 65s reflect a falling number of retired citizens.
  • Figure 4 shows that the number of women aged 64 and below that are officially classified as retired has been falling considerably over recent years, with 346,000 fewer women under the age of 65 classified as retired in the three months to April this year compared with the three months to April 2010, when changes to the state pension age for women began.
  • This fall has not been matched by a similar fall in the number of retired men in the age group, with just 45,000 fewer men under the age of 65 classified as retired in the three months to April 2016 than there were in the three months to April 2010. This suggests that the fall is being heavily driven by the changes being made the state pension age for women that began in April 2010.
  • However, changes to the retirement age cannot account for the overall change seen in the number of people retired over the past few years. More people have either wanted or needed to postpone retirement and continue working.

[1] A person is classified as economically active if they are in employment; defined as a people who did some paid work in the reference week; those who had a job that they were temporarily away from (eg, on holiday); those on government-supported training and employment programmes, or unemployed; defined as those people without a job who were available to start work in the two weeks following their interview and who had either looked for work in the four weeks prior to interview or were waiting to start a job they had already obtained.



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