Too old to work, too young to retire

Many older unemployed Australians live in a netherworld between work and retirement

Michael McGann, Dina Bowman, Helen Kimberley and Simon Biggs 2015

Understanding and preventing workforce vulnerabilities mid-life and beyond’ was an ARC Linkage Project which sought to understand the experiences of mature age Australians who are involuntarily unemployed or underemployed. In particular it examined:

  • The circumstances that lead to marginalisation from employment and how these differ between men and women at different ages
  • The impact this has on people’s wellbeing, personal and financial, and their aspirations
  • How existing employment services fail to adequately assist mature age job seekers

Some central findings were:

  1. Age discrimination in employment is a common experience but experienced differently by men and women. Physical appearance is important but while men are discriminated against on assumptions about strength and speed, women are judged aesthetically on their youth and attractiveness
  2. People’s attitudes towards retirement, work-life balance and attachment to work vary. For some, especially the more highly educated, work is central to their self-identity as productive members of society.  Others, for whom redundancy has been traumatic, re-evaluate the role of work in their lives as do many of those, especially women who are secondary earners, who see exclusion from the workforce as a self-development opportunity. Many however, have no choice but to work for their financial survival present and future.
  3. Labour market intermediaries and the government program of job services are largely ineffective. Over a quarter of a million Australians aged 45+ receive the Newstart  Allowance, over half of them for two years or more, and comprise 40% of the employment services’ caseloads. A mismatch in age and life experience between mature age job seekers and predominantly very young staff has led to limited understanding of what comprise suitable jobs for professionals, managers and administrators with many years of work experience.
  4. Australians on Newstart

    Many older unemployed Australians live in a netherworld between work and retirement, which leads to high levels of anxiety and depression due to doubts about their role in society and inability to provide for their retirement.

    For information about the project and publications

    A special issue of Social Policy and Society is in publication.

    Research partners: University of Canberra, Curtin University, University of Melbourne, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Jobs Australia.

More Information

Helen Kimberley