WHERL Working Paper. A sequence analysis approach to modelling the work and family histories of older adults in the UK
15 April 2015
Life course experiences in the labour market and the family have long been recognised as consequential for understanding later-life employment and retirement patterns. This paper describes the analytical approach we adopt to summarise detailed labour market, marital and parental histories for cohorts of older adults in Britain.
The data come from the annual waves and retrospective interviews of the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) and our sample includes men and women born between 1920 and 1949. Individuals were grouped according to frequent and meaningful patterns of labour market, marital and parental histories over ages 16-54, taking the entire history as the unit of analysis and using dynamic hamming distances to optimally match cases to a set of ideal-type reference sequences. Analyses were run separately for men and women.
The results revealed the gendered nature of labour market attachment from young adulthood to middle age for current cohorts of older adults. Between the ages of 16 and 54, the vast majority of men showed strong attachment to the labour market, and varied only in terms of the timing of labour market exit. A considerably more heterogeneous picture emerged for women, with between 8 and 20% of the sample following one of seven labour market trajectories. Most men and women had sequences that corresponded to being long-term married. Just over three-quarters of the men in our sample had dependent children in the household for a period of time between the ages of 16 and 54, while just over 85% of women indicated the same.
This paper represents a first step within a broader project to investigate how the long-term labour market and family experiences of current cohorts of older workers influence participation in paid work in the years leading up to and beyond state pension age. The findings presented here will inform subsequent analyses assessing the consequences of working in later life for individuals’ economic resources as well as their health and well-being.