Class, Education & Gender: The Effects on Retirement

A recent study from the University of Birmingham Business School has found that improving upon your education and skill levels during your working years are key to a good quality of life in retirement.

Having interviewed 50 retirees from varied backgrounds, both educationally and professionally, the University found that retirement was dramatically affected by gender, class and education.

The Study

Researchers conducting the study identified 6 main groups of workers:

– Professionals

– Delayed professionals

– Disjointed careers

– Mid-career transformers

– Administrative careers

– Semi-skilled careers

Depending upon which group the retiree fell in greatly affected their experiences of retirement. For example, ‘professionals’ were the group most likely to continue working in a part-time position in retirement, although more as something to do than to make money.

Those who had disjointed careers were most likely to continue to work past retirement age, claiming that retirement was ‘not an option to them’.

Retirees who has previously worked in administrative careers were the most likely to retire completely from paid work, but would be busier with volunteering or family based activities.

Of course, these lifestyles themselves contributed to how each retiree felt about retiring. Those with long professional careers were more likely to be optimistic and content in their retirement. One retiree from a professional career, for instance, set up a cheese making business, which only the time they had after retirement could afford them to do.

On the other end of the spectrum, those who had only started a professional career later in their life were more ambivalent about retirement due to worries concerning the loss of financial security and their work-related identities.

Additionally, those who had disjointed careers (with periods in and out of work, or in different types of employment), were worried by financial instability.

Class, Education & Gender

Researches also found that there were some notable external factors that affected retirement. These included a history of family care, access to resources (both material and financial), social networks, physical and mental health and ‘cultural capital’, which includes education.

For example, women who had worked in administrative jobs whilst also being very involved in their family said they felt more optimistic about retirement, as it allowed them to spend more time with their family and friends.

Conversely, men who had worked in ‘semi-skilled’ careers were particularly concerned by the identity loss and inactivity that retirement would bring.

Those who had been richer at earlier stages in their lives were also found to have had more ‘successful’ careers, i.e., to have made more money and developed greater financial security. Unsurprisingly this lead to more positive retirement experiences.

At the same time, periods of ill health and the responsibility to care for family members (including having children) seemed to negatively affect the individual’s quality of life. Whereas retraining had both negative and positive implications, depending upon the subject of their retraining.

Professor Joanne Duberley from the University of Birmingham added:

“All of these factors are interlinked, so financial resources can give individuals greater access to social and cultural resources and help maintain physical health.

“While education shapes careers and helps people to amass financial capital.  As such these interlinkages can mean that inequalities in the initial distribution of resources are reinforced, facilitating those in a privileged position and constrain those who are disadvantaged.”

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