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Age of No Retirement Is Over-Stated: Most of Us Would Rather Spend Time With Family

30/03/2015 13:28 BST | Updated 30/05/2015 10:59 BST

Policymakers have focused their attention on how to extend the working lives of our ageing population through 'flexible working'.

But having devoted my own working life to looking into retirement, the one thing that's become clear to me is that in our later years most of us - particularly those in low-skilled jobs - would rather spend time with family than go on working.

In the UK, the state pension age will have risen to 67 for both men and women by 2028. With an expectation many jobs will come to their natural end before this age 'flexible working' - moving from a full-time to a part-time role, or 'downshifting' to a position with fewer responsibilities - has been heralded as a solution to plug the gap.

This all sounds thoroughly sensible of course, but the problem is the issue of retirement is just not that black and white for any of us.

As part of my own ongoing research into working in later life, I recently spoke to a range of UK adults over 50. And the picture they painted was very different. For many the idea of a 'phased-retirement' held little appeal.

Having been in work for the majority of their lives, most people valued free-time over work if they had the option in older age. Perhaps unsurprising I admit, but what is interesting is how views on retirement differ between men and women.

For men who had worked in full-time roles, often since leaving school aged 15 or 16, views centred on retirement and increased freedom to spend more time with family, having 'done their bit' in the workforce.

Whereas the women I interviewed felt retirement offered the freedom to leave behind the low-paid, unsatisfying job they had found themselves in while juggling family and parental commitments.

If they had to extend their working lives, men favoured work which offered them autonomy - taking on self-directed or even self-employed work such as taxi driving to gain more control over their work/life balance.

Meanwhile a large number of women wanted the choice to return the workforce in a full-time role - often returning to careers, or even starting new ones, they were unable to do while raising families.

What also became abundantly clear in my conversations - particularly with women, was that decisions about extending working lives were not made on an individual basis. Many spoke of the need to 'fit-in' work around other commitments, their partner or family's schedule.

For some this involved caring for grandchildren to enable their daughters to work full-time. While for others, caring for elderly relatives or neighbours, or just generally 'helping-out' was an important aspect.

It's clear then flexible working is no panacea. Given the complexities of the problem, there is no 'one size fits all' solution to the issues created by our ageing workforce.

But for me, what is perhaps most worrying is the glaring omission of gender from the current policy discourse.

Until we can address this, we stand little chance of fully appreciating the changing nature of later-life working and retirement.