Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Older Women: Employment and Wellbeing in Later Life

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Older Women: Employment and Wellbeing in Later Life

Article excerpt

"Age is opportunity no less,

Than youth itself in another dress,

And as the evening twilight fades away,

The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day."

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)


Older women are confronted on a daily basis with mixed messages around success and wellbeing. Women are exhorted to be sassy at 60 (Street-Porter, 2008) and to age with attitude and elegance (Clifton, 2008). Elsewhere in the media, older women are depicted in more traditional caring roles "The Club Sandwich Generation. In their 60s, they're winding down at work. At home, they're taking care of their parents - and their grandchildren" (Hannan, 2011: 12). Allied to this manifold ageing discourse, is the public discussion around older workers from an economic perspective. Older workers, labelled variously as the "grey-haired workforce" and "grey matters at work" (Charman, 2015), are seen as carrying responsibility for future national economic success. The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) (2011) suggested that boomers

need to work longer and spend their full potential for the Government to afford their support payments. It predicts boomers could contribute billions to the economy - we just have to take advantage of its potential (p. 13).

Although labour market participation rates for older women in New Zealand are increasing (Callister, 2014), there is limited knowledge on their later life employment experiences (Myers, 2011). Do these protracted years of work enable women to develop, consolidate and enhance their individual sense of wellbeing and purpose, or do they reaffirm and extend a gendered lifecourse of workplace discrimination and social and economic disadvantage? (Loretto & Vickerstaff, 2015).

This article explores the labour market re-entry and employment experiences of a small group of older women (50 plus) (MSD, 2013; OCG, 2013), who had left their established careers and lives for an extended period of time to undertake self-initiated expatriation (SIE). For a more in-depth discussion of the older worker age threshold please refer to Myers (2016). Firstly, we explore the demographic and labour market trends in the New Zealand workplace. This discussion is followed by a literature review that considers issues relevant to the employment and wellbeing of some older woman who have returned to New Zealand after an SIE. Next, the methodology is outlined, the research questions are clarified and the role of narrative in the process of data gathering, analysis and presentation of findings is discussed. Significant background information is presented and describes how the participants returned from SIE having experienced considerable career and personal development. This gives context to the following section which outlines the participants' unexpected and challenging labour market re-entry and work experiences. The paper concludes firstly with a discussion on how the participants responded to their post-SIE employment experiences and challenges while retaining their sense of purpose and general wellbeing; and secondly outlines implications for four key stakeholder groups: academics and researchers, older workers, employers, and industry and policy makers.

Older Women and Labour Market Participation: the New Zealand Context.

Population ageing has become the global term used to denote significant demographic transition issues (Dunstan & Thomson, 2006; EEO Trust, 2012a). In New Zealand, population ageing is occurring at a slightly slower rate than in Europe. Between 2004 and 2051, New Zealand's population is predicted to increase by one million people, and by 2051, 50 per cent of the population will be 46 years plus (Alpass & Mortimer, 2007) and 1.37 million will be classified as older (MSD, 2013). By 2061, it is predicted that the New Zealand female population will comprise three similarly sized groups: 15 to 39, 40 to 64 and 65 years plus (Callister, 2014). …

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