In a recent survey, we asked Baby Boomer women about their jobs (or lack thereof) and attitudes about work. After decades of thought-leaders predicting that Boomers would reinvent the notion of work as they aged, the working life of Boomers is, in fact, looking a lot like ... the working life of everyone else.
Boomer Work is Full-Time Work
The women who answered our survey had an average age of 57, and 70% of them are currently employed. Defying some idea that aging women are devoting their work life to part-time gigs or non-paying careers, 64% of those who have a job still work full-time.
Boomers Will Keep Working
Boomers who currently have jobs also plan to keep them. Asked when they plan to retire, almost two-thirds said it would be after age 65. Only 16% said they thought they could retire before age 63, and a full 30% expect to work past 70.
You Can Call it “Reinvention” ... if You Want
Non-profit groups, publishers and various Boomer “experts” have tried to rename what work means after 50, and I’ve always felt they were off the mark. The women we surveyed seem to agree.
They reacted badly to words like “encore career” and “re-imagine.” A majority did find “reinvention” to be a reasonable description of work after 50, but few of them are actually finding new ways to make a salary. Their responses suggested that what they are reinventing is the way they approach work: They recognize the value from their own 30+ years of professional experience, even if their employers and colleagues don’t.
Why Isn’t Work Changing for Boomers?
While age has given women confidence in their own skills, it has also provided the reason they may not be allowed to use those skills in new ways.
Those who have jobs realize they will grow old in their current jobs (if they are lucky), increasing resentment among younger generations who want them to “get out of the way” – a luxury they cannot begin to afford.
And those who do not have jobs – 30% of our survey respondents, 75% of whom do want work – believe that the reason they are most likely to remain unemployed is a reason that gets worse with each year, and the one thing they cannot change about their employability: their age.
Seventy-eight percent of respondents called age a liability in getting a job, and 51% called it the primary reason they can’t find work now. (Only 30% blamed the recession more.) Women over 50 feel that employers will invariably hire younger applicants, because they are perceived to have better tech skills, more energy, lower healthcare costs – or just because they’re young.
How can Marketers Help?
Like employers, marketers remain guilty of assuming that women aged 50-70 are getting ready for retirement instead of getting ready for work. Advertising images continue to show most women over 50 as leisure-oriented seniors rather than regular working people. And those images may in turn persuade recruiters and HR professionals that Boomers (and Boomer women in particular) don’t really need a job.
Marketers and policy makers will do better for Boomers and for themselves when they consider women as an essential part of the workforce, not a luxury, an afterthought, or a hobbyist to be indulged.
And the easiest way to start is by referring to work by people over 50 with a word that describes how Americans of all ages find both meaning and income: work.