We document employment rates of older men and women in the UK over the last forty years. In both cases growth in employment since the mid 1990s has been stronger than for younger age groups. On average, older men are still less likely to be in work than they were in the mid 1970s although this is not true for those with low education. We highlight issues with using years of schooling as a measure of educational achievement for analysing labour market trends at older ages, not least because a large proportion of men who left school at young ages without any formal qualifications, have subsequently acquired some.
Reforms – such as the abolition of the earnings test and rises in the female State Pension Age, have pushed up employment rates. But other factors – such as the shift from defined benefit to defined contribution pensions being offered by private sector employers and the growth in employment rates at younger ages among successive cohorts of women – are also important. We discuss the role of other cohort and economy-wide trends, highlighting that the proportion of older men and women employed in professional, managerial and technical occupations has been particularly strong.