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Philip Taylor, Catherine Earl, Elizabeth Brooke and Christopher McLoughlin

This section overviews the emergence of a pro-work agenda in public policy internationally that responds to ageing populations. The authors note an alignment of this agenda with gerontological thought that seeks to challenge notions of increasing dependency with older ages. While this theoretical stance has drawn criticism, the authors argue it still has value but needs to be broadened to encompass other areas of productive engagement during retirement. This needs to be gender-conscious by being supported by more women-centred research that considers their experiences of work and post-work and how these interact with other aspects of their lives.

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Philip Taylor, Catherine Earl, Elizabeth Brooke and Christopher McLoughlin

Chapter 1 describes international trends in the labour force participation of older women, what work they do and how they do it. The authors identify that while older women make an important contribution to the labour force internationally, their experiences are not uniform, meaning that it is impossible tell a single story of women’s relationship with paid work. It is also observed that, while older women are considered to represent a large potential pool of untapped labour this overlooks other contributions that have economic and social value. The chapter also debates the merits of the notions that we are witnessing the emergence of destandardized individual biographies and that a remodelling of the boundaries of work and retirement will benefit workers and society.

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Philip Taylor, Catherine Earl, Elizabeth Brooke and Christopher McLoughlin

Chapter 2 introduces the concept of the gendered ageing society, considering factors that shape older women’s patterns of work and retirement. It evaluates the present framing of issues of ageing societies in terms of the economic contribution of older people in the form of paid work, and identifies deficiencies in a reductionist approach that suggests the homogeneity of older people. This chapter develops the earlier criticism of the notion of an increasingly blended lifecycle, and of theorising of work and retirement for being grounded in androcentric and neoliberal concepts. The chapter outlines how life course transitions are structured by social inequalities.

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Philip Taylor, Catherine Earl, Elizabeth Brooke and Christopher McLoughlin

Chapter 3 outlines the three themes that framed the research: the meaning, centrality and role of paid work; career management and development; and barriers to remaining in or entering the labour market. It describes the methodological approach taken in a large mixed methods project: a quantitative survey of older women, follow-up qualitative interviews with a subset of these women, and qualitative interviews with human resource managers and stakeholders. This chapter also describes the characteristics of the women who participated in the survey and introduces the women by means of a small number of vignettes.

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Philip Taylor, Catherine Earl, Elizabeth Brooke and Christopher McLoughlin

Chapter 4 reports the experiences of older women survey respondents in terms of job satisfaction, work-life balance, perceptions of working hours and what determined these, perceptions of treatment by managers and co-workers, perceptions of labour market age barriers, and participation in skills development activities. The findings are indicative of relatively benign workplace environments. Job satisfaction was high and women generally appeared able to juggle work and other responsibilities. Working hours were a concern for some women, particularly those in casualized employment. Participation in learning and development activities declined with age and was more common among those with higher skill levels. Workplace discrimination was not a major feature of the experiences of these women.

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Philip Taylor, Catherine Earl, Elizabeth Brooke and Christopher McLoughlin

Chapter 5 reports older women survey respondents’ decisions to leave work, look for work and the drivers and facilitators of moving into work. Women’s orientations to work were complex, the findings suggesting that some women were winding down to retirement but equally, and perhaps even more so, others demonstrated strong aspirations to seek meaningful employment opportunities. It is concluded that this complexity makes workplace policy and advocacy targeting ‘older workers’ problematic. Notably, discrimination experienced from employers was less likely than discrimination experienced from training providers, recruitment agencies or professional associations.

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Philip Taylor, Catherine Earl, Elizabeth Brooke and Christopher McLoughlin

Chapter 6 reports older women survey respondents’ expectations about retirement; their financial preparation for retirement; and factors that pushed them out of the workforce such as declining health and poor working conditions. Older women workers demonstrated a generally positive orientation to retirement. However, financial preparedness was a concern, with a significant proportion reporting that their understanding of their superannuation was poor. Findings with regards to self-esteem and social contact point to the need to support older women in building post-work identity and structures outside of work.

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Philip Taylor, Catherine Earl, Elizabeth Brooke and Christopher McLoughlin

Chapter 7 reports qualitative interviews with older women about the pursuit of an active, fulfilling and productive retirement, and the mechanisms that promote these outcomes. Contrary to notions of the blended lifecycle, analysis reveals a stark division between paid work and retirement for many women at the same time as an ongoing commitment to socially valued and productive albeit unpaid activities that form a portfolio career. Furthermore , analysis reveals an increased sense of autonomy and control over decision making among retired women that contrasts with their experiences of paid employment.

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Philip Taylor, Catherine Earl, Elizabeth Brooke and Christopher McLoughlin

Chapter 8 reports qualitative interviews with older women, drawing from the concepts of biographical work-life balance and portfolio careers. It focuses on older women who were in part-time work but who self-identified as having made a transition to retirement. Many had longstanding careers and stable networks, accrued skills and financial resources, supported a well-endowed quality of portfolio lives, whereas those who experienced ‘unbalanced’ portfolio retirement were more likely to be lacking resources from their working lives. The analysis reinforces the notion that retirement should be viewed as a process and not an event and that it is impossible to tell a single story of women's post-work transitions.

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Philip Taylor, Catherine Earl, Elizabeth Brooke and Christopher McLoughlin

Chapter 9 explores conceptions older workers, drawing from interviews with human resources managers and expert stakeholders. Analysis revealed pervasive discrimination based on age and gender and a lack of recognition of the diversity of older workers. They are generally understood in essentialized terms as a single group sharing certain stereotypical attributes. An essentialized discourse of decline underpins representations of older workers. It is argued that the idea of the older worker needs to be problematized.