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Understanding older worker precarity: the intersecting domains of jobs, households and the welfare state

Lookup NU author(s): Dr David Lain



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


In policy debates it is commonly claimed that older workers are entering a period of choice and control. In contrast, Guy Standing’s (2011) book The Precariat argues that older people are increasingly joining the ‘precariat’, by taking low-level jobs to supplement dwindling pension incomes. We argue that many older workers, not just those in “precarious jobs”, feel a sense of ‘ontological precarity’. Pressures to work longer, combined with limited alternative employment prospects and inadequate retirement incomes, give rise to a heightened sense of precarity. We develop a new theoretical model for understanding precarity as a lived experience, which is influenced by the intersection between precarious jobs, precarious welfare states and precarious households. This model is then illustrated using qualitative research from two UK organisations: Local Government and Hospitality. In both organisations older workers experienced a sense of ontological precarity because they worried about the long-term sustainability of their jobs and saw limited alternative sources of retirement income. Household circumstances either reinforced interviewees’ sense of precarity, or acted as a buffer against it. This was particularly important for women, as they typically accrued smaller financial resources in their own right. Our concluding discussion builds on this more advanced theoretical understanding of older worker precarity to call for a rethinking of state and employer support for decisions around later-life working and retirement.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lain D, Airey L, Loretto W, Vickerstaff S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Ageing & Society

Year: 2019

Volume: 39

Issue: 10

Pages: 2219-2241

Print publication date: 01/10/2019

Online publication date: 01/10/2018

Acceptance date: 04/09/2018

Date deposited: 05/09/2018

ISSN (print): 0144-686X

ISSN (electronic): 1469-1779

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


DOI: 10.1017/S0144686X18001253


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