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Working Pensioners in Germany and the UK: Quantitative and Qualitative Evidence on Gender, Marital Status, and the Reasons for Working


Taking paid work among men and women beyond pension age as an example, the contribution examines the interrelationship between life courses, gendered welfare regimes, and later-life employment outcomes. Using both quantitative and qualitative data, the article focuses on the role of inequalities, gender and marital status for working despite receiving a pension, and on the subjective reasons for this employment. The quantitative analyses are based on the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and the German Ageing Survey (DEAS), and the qualitative evidence on semi-structured interviews with working pensioners in Germany and the UK. Gender differences in working can be traced back in part to differences in educational qualification and in pre-retirement class. Although no general gender differences in the reasons for paid employment can be found, financial reasons are mentioned much more often by divorced women in Germany and widowed women in the UK than by men and by married women. The qualitative data underlines the special role earned income plays for divorced women and, more generally, the variety of reasons which motivate pensioners to work for pay. Furthermore, pension age is less meaningful for mothers because of their patchier careers. All in all, (poor) labour market chances and household dynamics in old age are interrelated in gendered patterns of old age employment, and accompanied by specific interpretations of this work.

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  1. Due to limited space, we have to focus on the general rules applying to current pensioners and cannot describe (important) recent reforms.

  2. Although these replacement rates are based on simulations according to pension rules of 2012 (i.e., apply to future pensioners), we consider them as approximations of actual replacement rates of current pensioners.

  3. Unfortunately there is no space to discuss the development in the German Democratic Republic which had much higher female labour participation than West Germany and a less conservative gender culture – the above only applies to West Germany (for a more detailed discussion including East Germany see Trappe 1996).

  4. In the UK, married women could, up to 1977, opt for paying a reduced rate of National Insurance contributions and would in turn not accrue their own state pension entitlements, but be able to claim a part of their husband’s pension. For women who chose this option at that time, this reduction continued to apply and still applies today in a small number of cases.

  5. As ELSA only refers to the English population, we will only speak of England in the following sections while assuming that most of the results can be generalised to the rest of the UK.

  6. Excluded are people who defer pension receipt (a small minority in the UK, but negligible in Germany) and those without any pension claims based on their own employment record. Unfortunately, it was not possible to exclude British women (or men) whose basic State Pension is only based on their spouse’s (or ex-spouse’s or deceased spouse’s) contributions (see also note 4); however, the aim of this strategy – to exclude those deferring pension receipt and those who have barely been in paid employment (in the UK) – will largely be achieved. Furthermore, the age range excludes younger working pensioners in Germany, and English women under 65 receiving a pension (their pension age still being 60 at the time of observation). For more details regarding the forms of combining work and pension payments see Scherger et al. (2012).

  7. This variable only refers to the current marital status, i.e., re-married divorcees or widow(er)s are counted as married, whereas cohabiting divorcees or cohabiting widowed persons are counted as divorced or widowed, and never married cohabitants as never married. Marriage also includes registered partnerships. Case numbers did not allow for a combination of marital status with partnership (cohabitation) status, one reason being that the numbers of unmarried cohabiting couples are relatively small in this age group: for the full samples above, between 84 and 98 % of those who are divorced, widowed or never married live alone (depending on country and gender).

  8. Table 1 uses the same classification of occupational classes as the quantitative analysis, based on the information from the interviews. Since the qualitative sampling was done on the basis of the qualification needed for the current job (i.e. after state pension age), the distribution of occupational classes is not as balanced when looking at the jobs held by the interviewees before state pension age (not shown in table): In their main career and before receiving a pension, a larger part of the interviewees worked in professional and intermediate jobs and in self-employment, and only nine in lower service/sales, lower technical and routine jobs. However, this distribution corresponds well with the quantitative result presented in Section 4 that pensioners who had professional jobs or were self-employed in their main career have a higher probability of working beyond pension age. Although systematic evidence is missing on this subject, there are indications that some employed pensioners have undergone a certain degree of downward occupational mobility.

  9. As all descriptive percentages, these are weighted to deal with systematic non-response.

  10. We do not differentiate between full-time and part-time workers in the following, as this would lead to problems with case numbers. The larger share of male English pensioners working full-time might reflect their better chances of continuing in their old job. Among those with long working hours, there are also many self-employed, who are more often men.

  11. All names used in this section are pseudonyms.

  12. The following considerations only include those divorcees who do not have a new (cohabiting or married) partner in their household because only they stand out in their motives. For the few female divorcees who cohabit with a new partner (one woman in our sample) or who are married to a new partner (no cases in our sample) the situation is different because they can pool their resources. Interestingly, relatively more male than female divorcees (and as well widowers) in our sample live together with a new partner; higher tendencies of re-marriage for older men in comparison to women have been shown for Germany (Nowossadeck and Engstler 2013) and can also be seen in the quantitative surveys analysed above.

  13. The closer examination of the widowed interviewees living alone did not result in the identification of such a clear pattern.

  14. Only two men among the seven male divorcees in the sample are divorced and live by themselves. Accordingly, it is difficult to analyse this sub-group separately. Looking at the group of male divorcees, both in a relationship and not, the most important difference in comparison to female divorcees is that most of them had continuous work careers which made long-term pension saving possible. Furthermore, the experience of working is much more varied among divorced men. This tends to confirm our points made above. Additionally, the divorced interviewees who re-partnered are able to pool their resources.


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Correspondence to Anna Hokema.

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This work was supported by a grant of the German Research Foundation (DFG) under its Emmy Noether programme.



Table 5 Factors influencing employment among pensioners: average marginal effects of logistic regressions

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Hokema, A., Scherger, S. Working Pensioners in Germany and the UK: Quantitative and Qualitative Evidence on Gender, Marital Status, and the Reasons for Working. Population Ageing 9, 91–111 (2016).

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  • Employment
  • Retirement
  • Gender
  • Pension age
  • Germany
  • UK
  • Mixed methods