Research studies tend to confirm what we already know, or have suspected, and such is the case with a major Australian study finding that today’s older people (50+) who left school before year 12 often struggle to work later into their lives because of poorer health, or because their work is not suitable for older personnel. Women are disproportionately impacted.

Data from the 17,000 respondents that participated in the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey was analysed in accordance with life expectancy and quality over four periods: years working in good health, years working in poor health, years retired in good health and years retired in poor health.

The University of Melbourne’s HILDA Survey is funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Social Services. It found, inter alia, that those leaving before the end of high school are losing years of healthy life, with their extra years in the workforce are mainly spent in poor health. The reverse applies to people who completed high school.

Women are especially disadvantaged, according to Dr Kim Kiely, a co-author of the paper, who said they are statistically living for longer but in poor health and disability.

‘This is likely due to women’s greater longevity and differential contributions of diseases affecting men and women as they age. It is more common for older women to live with non-fatal and disabling long-term health conditions such as musculoskeletal diseases and dementia,’ he said.

Noting that older women are also more likely to face a “double whammy” of both ageism and gender discrimination in the workplace, Dr Kiely said, ‘We can speculate that women of this generation leave the workforce earlier due to poor health because they are usually working in occupations that are less able to accommodate health limitations.

‘The majority of workers aged over 65 are in professional or managerial roles, where it is easier to make accommodations for poor health. Among the cohorts we are looking at, [those] born before 1960, these sorts of jobs are more likely to filled by men.’

Other topics surveyed by HILDA were financial wellbeing and literacy, the impacts of COVID-19, mental health, the rise of the working from home trend, and household and family issues.