A New Image

New Middle Age calls for the recognition of a new generation – from 50 to retirement, whenever that may be – an active, skilled and productive generation with a unique contribution to make to economy and society.

Getting the image right

A quarter of people currently in their 50s could live to be 100. So 50 is a midway point and the 50 to retirement generation is not old or older. This generation has been shown to be active and engaged, with evidence of peak productivity and high level skills. A new image is required.

  • To be over 50 can no longer be deemed old or older – this is the time of an active and engaged New Middle Age.
  • The knowledge, experience and proven productive potential of the 50 to retirement generation needs to be unlocked and realised for the benefit of economy and society, old and young.
  • The challenge is to create a new image of an effective and able New Middle Age, and with it a framework where the aspirations and abilities of the 50 to retirement generation are supported, promoted and encouraged.

Combatting the stereotype

Certain stereotypical images of life after 50 persist which are not supported by the evidence.

Retirement: early retirement programmes in the 1970s and 1980s created an image of 50 being the beginning of the age of retirement. But the data shows that New Middle Age is a working generation.

  • Only one tenth of people aged 50-64 say they are retired.
  • Over 70% of 50 to 64 year olds are in work, 8.9 million people, and there are over 10 million working people over the age of 50.
  • Only 2% are unemployed – out of work and actively looking for a job.
  • A quarter (26%) of 50 to 64 year olds are ‘economically inactive’ – not in work and but not actively looking for work. While this group includes those who have taken early retirement, the majority are people who have opted out of work because of their personal circumstances, primarily caring responsibilities or their own health issues.
  • One fifth of this economically inactive group say they would like to work if they could find a job which fitted with their personal circumstances.

Skills: there are concerns that the skills of people at a later stage in their careers are out of date and that they have difficulty learning new skills. But the data shows that the majority of 50-64 year olds work in skilled roles.

  • The largest concentration of employees aged 50 to 64 is found in professional occupations.
  • 55 is the average age of a FTSE100 CEO.
  • Over half of 50 to 64 year olds are employed in professional, managerial or skilled jobs.
  • Less than 10% of 50 to 64 year olds are employed in elementary occupations.

Technology: there is a strong conception that people over 50 are not IT proficient and do not make use of modern technologies. But current data shows that this is not the case and that New Middle Age is an age of new media.

  • 95% of 50-54 year olds are internet users and nearly 90% of those aged 55-64.
  • 75% of 50-54 year olds and over 70% of 55-64 year olds use a computer every day.
  • Over 50% of 50-54 year olds and over 40% of 55-64 year olds use social media.

Widowhood: widowhood is associated with older age. But for those aged 50-64, data shows that this is unlikely to be the reality.

  • Only 4 in every 100 people aged 50 to 64 are widowed.
  • Over two thirds are married.
  • One sixth are divorced.
  • One eighth are single.
  • 3 in every hundred are in civil partnerships.
  • In 2012, 10% of men and 8% of women who got married were aged between 50 and 64.

Grandparents: there is a clear association in the media and pubic images of the over 50s with grandparents. The data shows that the real picture is more nuanced.

  • According to government data, there are between 5.5 and 7 million grandparents under the age of 65, half of total grandparents (link here). With 12.4 million people aged 50-64, this means that around half of them (44-56%) are grandparents.
  • 1 in 8 people aged 50-64 still have dependent children, a trend which is likely to increase as the average age of parenthood is rising steadily. The average age of a first time mother is 28 and a half – giving an average age of 46 and a half when the first child reaches 18.
  • 1 in 6 people aged 50 to 64 have no children.

The ‘Fifty Effect’

There is a tendency to define the top age range in society as ‘over 50’. As a result there is a risk that the image, abilities and needs of this very age diverse group will be assumed to be the same. But this group potentially covers a fifty year age range and includes people from the middle of life to very old age.

  • Recent public policy responses to economic inactivity amongst the over 50s have been combined with others strategies directed at old people – which focus on keeping active in retirement, support needs and end of life issues. These issues of old age will inevitably become associated with all people over 50.
  • Further confusion may arise from the term ‘older workers’ – used to describe people in the top age bracket of their working life, from 50 to 64. Even in some research papers, the terms ‘older workers’ and ‘older people’ are used interchangeably.
  • These approaches encourage the idea that, on turning 50, a person suddenly becomes ‘older’, and imagined as being in need of support and a beneficiary of, rather than contributor to economy and society.
  • The effect is compounded by marketing strategies focused on people over 50. These campaigns merely seek to exploit the potential buying power of a specific demographic. However, they can also inadvertently contribute to the idea that 50 represents a significant turning point in life.

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