A life-course approach to the study of paid and unpaid activities in mid to late life in Britain

06 July 2016

In light of population ageing, policies aimed at extending working lives are being considered or have been implemented in many industrialised countries. In the UK, the state pension age has been delayed and pathways to early retirement have been restricted (Silcock 2012). However, given older adults’ substantial contributions to unpaid activities, such as informal care and volunteering, longer working lives may have repercussions for engagement in these activities. To date, previous research on the relationship between paid and unpaid activities has predominantly focused on single activities (Morrow-Howell et al. 2014; Dury et al. 2015) and taken a short-term perspective.

This paper aims to understand how paid work affects older adults’ likelihood of engaging in unpaid activities. Drawing on the life course perspective, which recognises the importance of concurrent and earlier experiences, I use 7 waves of data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) collected between 1996 and 2008, as well as retrospective histories on work and family life, to model patterns of engagement in paid and unpaid activities. I use latent class models to describe patterns of paid and unpaid activities over time and multivariate models to assess how these are related to gender, sociodemographic factors, health, and life course experiences in the labour market and the family (marital status and fertility). I discuss the findings in reference to the implications for the promotion of active ageing and current trends of increasing labour market participation at older ages.

Dury, S. et al., 2015. Is volunteering in later life impeded or stimulated by other activities? Research on aging, 38(1), pp.51–75.

Morrow-Howell, N. et al., 2014. An Investigation of Activity Profiles of Older Adults. Journals of Gerontology Series B-Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 69(5), pp.809–821.

Silcock, D., 2012. Extending working lives. Pensions Int J, 17(4), pp.229–235.