Understanding older adults’ labour market trajectories: a comparative gendered life course perspective


  • Diana Worts University of Toronto
  • Laurie Corna King's College London
  • Amanda Sacker University College London
  • Anne McMunn University College London
  • Peggy McDonough University of Toronto




older adults, life course, employment, family, gender, welfare state, optimal matching


The recent push to keep older adults in the labour force glosses over who is likely to follow what kind of employment trajectory and why. In this paper, we broaden understandings of later-life labour market involvement by applying a comparative gendered life course perspective. Our data come from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe and the Health and Retirement Study (US), two representative panel studies of individuals aged 50-plus. Using a unique modeling strategy, we examine employment biographies for older women and men from four nations with diverse policy regimes (Germany, Italy, Sweden, and the US), along with their links to family experiences and earlier attachment to the labour force. We find that, in every nation, women prevail in groups representing a weak(er) attachment to the labour market and men in groups signifying a strong(er) attachment. However, this pattern is much stronger for Germany and Italy than for Sweden and the US. Similarly, both family experiences and prior employment matter more for later-life labour market involvement in Germany and Italy. Our findings demonstrate that older adults’ employment trajectories are gendered; moreover, there is evidence that they are influenced by policies related not only to paid work but also to caregiving, and by those affecting not only current decisions but also those made earlier in the life course.