A new academic report, co published by The Age and Employment Network (TAEN) explores the reflections, projections and interpretations of work and career to date of people approaching 60.

Margaret Christopoulos, Continuing Professional Development Co-ordinator for the International Centre for Guidance Studies at the University of Derby (a TAEN member) undertook the report entitled: “What does career mean to people in their 60th year?” Valerie Bromage, her co-author, contributed to the analysis of data.

The purpose of the report is to capture the views of the near 60 year olds in their own words as far as possible, to comment and analyse these and relate them to relevant theory. The study adopted a qualitative approach and used primarily one to one in-depth interviews with 22 individuals approaching the age of 60 from a range of occupations and employment statuses. The research also reviewed literature in a number of fields: narrative theory, career theory, change management, gender issues and the economic, social and historical issues related to the period 1948 to 2009.

The report found that many people born in 1948 and 1949 were grateful for the opportunities which opened up to them because of the grants system for higher education, the expanding NHS and the jobs it created, and four or five decades of relative economic prosperity, without the shadow of world wars. However the study identified a ‘gender gulf’ in the career experiences of men and women, some feeling being female was a ‘career obstacle’ for them.

Margaret Christopoulos said that the selection of people interviewed could be described as the ‘never had it so good’ generation. Most of the interviewees considered that they had fared better than their older ‘siblings’ in terms of having a wide range of occupations available to choose from. They had found it easy to get a job throughout their working lives despite many of them having experienced redundancy at some point. Some felt that their career ‘lot’ was easier than their younger ‘siblings’ – as they would have experienced the impact of the 1980s recessions at the wrong time of their career.

Other key findings of the study include:

  • Gender was a key issue affecting the careers of those born at the end of the 1940s. Females of this age were often expected to fulfil a family role and a career was less important than a series of ‘jobs’. Most men interviewed had a career for life.
  • Some of those respondents at the top of their career ladder wanted to retire early or reduce their working hours; this indicated a hidden ’brain drain’, a loss to the economy of much needed knowhow in some sectors, particularly the public sector.
  • Some felt that they wished they had had a sense of direction.
  • Interviewees offered theories for how people chose their careers; these included talent matching, opportunity, social structure, inertia and spiritual influence.