Why any skills assessment can’t ignore older women

Older women are habitually treated as marginal figures in the labour force .   I’ve just come across some figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that really drive home why this should no longer be the case.

Here are the key points:

1.  The participation rate for women aged 55+  is already over one-third.  That, if I’ve understood the figures correctly, is of all women aged 55+, i.e. including centenarians and beyond.

2.  Nearly one third (32.8%) of F aged 65-69 will be in work by 2024.  So much for conventional ways of giving us the labour force figures, stopping at 65.

3.   Nearly one quarter  (22.4%) of all F aged 65-74 are already in work, rising to 26.2%  by 2024.   This amount to 4.9 million women.

More figures, if you want them, below.   I’m going to look now for the UK equivalents, where the trend is surely similar.   The point of course is that this segment of the labour force will be increasingly highly qualified, and will have accumulated massive experience as well.  Just as importantly, it means that even if women take a partial or total career break to bring up children, they will very often have a full 30 years or so of working life ahead of them after that.

This radically affects the kinds of  calculation to be made over the costs of jettisoning or ignoring all those skills.  I recall one friend telling me that at age 55 or so she had decided against going back to do a Masters, in part because she wouldn’t have enough time to put the new qualification to work.  This was 8 or 10 years ago, and even then she began to think it might have been a wrong decision.  We can see from the figures just how the horizons have extended.


Workers 55 years and older. In contrast to the declining trend of the youth labor force, the number of workers 55 years and older in the labor force grew from 15.5 million in 1994 to 23.0 million in 2004. Then, in 2014, their number climbed to 33.9 million, nearly 11 million more than in 2004. The group’s share of the total labor force also increased, from 11.9 percent in 1994, to 15.6 percent in 2004, to 21.7 percent in 2014. The 55-years-and-older age group is projected to increase its number in the labor force to 40.6 million in 2024, and its share is expected to reach nearly 25 percent that year. Within the group, the labor force share of the 55-to-64-year-olds increased from 8.9 percent in 1994, to 12.2 percent in 2004, to 16.4 percent in 2014.The group’s share of the total labor force is expected to grow to 16.6 percent over the next decade, and within the 55-years-and-older group, the older subgroups will increase their shares faster than the younger ones.  [my itals]



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