This article analyses people aged 50 to 65 years who left or lost their job since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and would consider returning in the future. We found that:
those considering returning were on average younger: of those considering returning, 61% were aged 50 to 59 years; of those not considering returning, 33% were aged 50 to 59 years
nearly a quarter (24%) of adults reported they had retired from their previous job, although only 6% of those aged 50 to 54 years reported this; stress (21%) was the most common reason for this younger age group
those considering returning were less likely to be able to afford an unexpected but necessary expense (61%), or own their house outright (57%) than those not considering returning (77% and 78%, respectively)
of those with a physical or mental health condition or illness, the most common reasons for considering returning to work were for the money (67%), for social company or a job they would enjoy (46%), and to improve their mental health (42%)
those who felt they had the skills needed to get a new job were more likely to report retiring or not wanting to work anymore; those who did not were more likely to select a health reason for leaving paid work
money was an important motivation to return for all age groups, but particularly for the younger cohort aged 50 to 54 years (69%), those who felt like they do not have the skills to get a job (68%) or who were paying off a loan or mortgage (68%)
Of adults aged 50 to 65 years who have left their previous job since the pandemic but have already returned to work:
- they were more likely to have left their previous job because of factors out of their control, for example they were made redundant (33%), left because of the coronavirus pandemic (26%), or lost their job (17%)
Since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the proportion of those aged 50 years and over who are economically inactive has increased, see our Movements out of work for those aged over 50 years since the start of the coronavirus pandemic article. Our new economic inactivity research published 10 November 2022 also shows that increasingly more people are out of the labour force because of long-term sickness, and more recent analysis on this topic looks at Worker movements and economic inactivity in the UK: 2018 to 2022.
The Over 50s Lifestyle Study (OLS) was designed to gather more information from adults aged 50 years and over to better understand their motivations for leaving work and whether they intend to return. Wave 1 was conducted between 8 and 13 February 2022, and wave 2 between 10 to 29 August 2022. We use wave 2 data to look at the reasons why those who would consider returning to work had left their job during the pandemic, in addition to what motivates them to want to return and why they have not yet returned.Back to table of contents
Among adults considering returning, those who reported a mental or physical health condition or illness were more likely to report the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as a reason for leaving their previous job (21%) than those who did not (11%). Additionally, those with a mental or physical health condition or illness were less likely to report retirement as a reason to leave paid work (18%) or a change of lifestyle (13%) than those without a health condition (31% and 21%, respectively). Instead, this group were more likely to report health issues such as stress (18%), illness (15%), mental health (10%) or disability (8%) as reasons to leave paid work.
Those with a physical or mental health condition or illness were more likely to consider returning to work:
- for the money (67%, compared with 57% among those without)
- to improve their mental health (42%, compared with 30%)
- to improve their physical health (16%, compared with 12%)
Those with a physical or mental condition considered their health and job security as something that was important when looking for a new paid job. Nearly two-fifths (37%) said it was important to find a job that suits their level of health or disability and reported permanent employment as an important factor when returning (24%). This is compared with 3% and 15%, respectively, among those without physical or mental health illnesses or conditions.
Those who had returned to work were less likely to report a health condition or illness as a reason for leaving work
Those who have returned to work since leaving their previous job during the pandemic were overall less likely to have health conditions or an illness, with 24% reporting having a disability (compared with 36% of those considering returning but had not). Despite being less likely to report health issues as a reason for leaving, for those who had returned to work, reasons were often involuntary, with redundancy being the most common reason (33%).
Among those aged 50 to 65 years who have not returned, around 2 in 10 (18%) said they were looking for paid work. This proportion decreased with age (22% for adults aged 50 to 54 years, 19% for adults aged 55 to 59 years and 15% for adults aged 60 to 65 years).
Among those who are not currently looking for paid work, the most common reasons for not returning were that:
- they had retired (31%); this increased with age (12% for aged 50 to 54 years, 34% for aged 55 to 59 years and 41% for 60 to 65 years)
- they wanted a change in lifestyle (19%); similar across the age groups (19%, 20% and 18%, respectively)
- they were looking after the home or for caring responsibilities (14%); similar across the age groups (15%, 16% and 12%, respectively)
We have reported, in our article, on the Impact of increased cost of living on adults across Great Britain. We found that "money" was as an important motivation to return for all groups, but particularly for the younger cohort. A higher proportion of adults aged 50 to 54 years reported returning to paid work for the money compared with their older peers (aged 50 to 54 years: 69%, aged 55 to 59 years: 62%, and aged 60 to 65 years: 59%). We also found that adults who feel they do not have the skills to get a job, and adults with a mortgage or loan to buy their property were more likely to consider returning for the money (both 68%) in comparison to those who had the skills (62%), and those who own their house outright (60%).
Figure 6: Money as a reason to consider returning was reported most by the younger cohort (aged 50 to 54 years)
Proportion of adults aged 50 to 65 years who have left their previous job since the pandemic but would consider returning for the money, Great Britain, 10 to 29 August 2022
- Base: all adults aged 50 to 65 years who have left or lost their job since the start of the coronavirus pandemic (March 2020), have not returned and would consider returning.
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Among adults who told us they were considering returning to work for the money, just under one-quarter (24%) of the younger cohort (adults aged 50 to 54 years) said that they had not returned because they were currently looking for work. This was the most commonly reported reason for this age group.
For the older cohorts, retirement was the most commonly-reported reason to have not returned to work, with 28% of adults aged 55 to 59 years and 35% of adults aged 60 to 65 years reporting this (compared with 11% of those aged 50 to 54 years).
Those considering returning to work appeared less financially resilient
Those who would consider returning to work were also asked about their debt situation. Those who reported having one or more types of debt, excluding mortgages, were more likely to have lost their previous job (12%) or left their previous job because of the coronavirus pandemic (21%). This was 6% and 13%, respectively, among those with no debt.
Those who reported having no debt were also more likely to have chosen their exit from their previous paid job, with 28% reporting choosing to retire (19% among those with one or more types of debt).
We also found that the financial situation differed between those who were considering returning or not.
Figure 7: Those considering returning were less likely to be able to afford an unexpected, but necessary expense (61%) or own their house outright (57%)
Proportion of adults aged 50 to 65 years who left their previous job since the pandemic, Great Britain, 10 to 29 August 2022
- Base: all adults aged 50 to 65 years who have left or lost their job since the start of the coronavirus pandemic (March 2020).
- Squatting, part-rent, part mortgage and live rent free have been excluded because of small sample sizes.
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Among those considering returning to work, those who owned their home outright were more likely to have reported leaving their previous job out of preference. Around one-third (34%) left their previous job to retire compared with 17% of those currently paying off a mortgage and 3% of those renting. Just over one in five (22%) left for a change in lifestyle compared with 11% and 9%, respectively.
By contrast, those who reported renting their home appeared more financially vulnerable, with the most commonly reported reasons being: the coronavirus pandemic (28%), compared with those currently paying off a mortgage (17%) and those who own their house outright (13%), and losing their job (19%), compared with 10% and 5%, respectively.
Those renting were also the least likely to report leaving for redundancy (11% compared with 16% of those who own their house outright, and 23% of those with a mortgage).Back to table of contents
Motivations and barriers for adults aged 50 years and over to return to the workplace, Great Britain
Dataset | Released 19 December 2022
Estimates from the Over 50s Lifestyle Study for Great Britain, wave 2 for those who have left, not returned but consider returning. Includes data covering reasons for leaving, reasons for not returning and reasons for considering returning.
All Over 50s Lifestyle Study datasets used in this article are available on the Related data page.
Economically inactive people
People not in employment who have not been seeking work within the last four weeks and/or are unable to start work within the next two weeks.
A retired person is defined as anyone who describes themselves as "retired" or, anyone over minimum National Insurance pension age describing themselves as "unoccupied" or "sick or injured but not intending to seek work".
Self-employed people are those who define themselves as working for themselves, rather than receiving a wage or salary from an employer.Back to table of contents
Over 50s Lifestyle Study (OLS)
This release contains data and indicators from the Office for National Statistics' (ONS) Over 50s Lifestyle Study to understand the experiences of adults aged 50 to 65 years.
Sampling and weighting
In the period between 10 to 29 August 2022, we sampled 43,250 individuals. These were selected from those who had previously completed the Labour Market Online Survey (LMO) and were aged between 50 and 65 years. The responding sample contained 23,490 individuals, representing a 54.4% response rate.
More information on data breakdowns can be found in our Reasons workers aged 50 years and over returned to work during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Great Britain dataset. It should be noted that a small number of respondents reported "prefer not to say" for some of the questions mentioned.
Our survey does not include adults living in care homes or other establishments, so they are not included in our analysis.
Weights were adjusted for non-response and attrition. The weights were then calibrated considering the population distributions of sex by age, region, and employment group. Population totals for age, sex, and region were based on projections for July 2022.
To define disability in this publication, we refer to the Government Statistical Service (GSS) harmonised "core" definition of disability: this identifies "disabled" as a person who has a physical or mental health condition or illness that has lasted or is expected to last 12 months or more that reduces their ability to carry-out day-to-day activities. The GSS harmonised questions are asked of the respondent in the survey, meaning that disability status is self-reported.
This report presents a summary of results, with further data including confidence intervals for the estimates contained in the associated datasets. Where comparisons between groups are presented, 95% confidence intervals should be used to assess the statistical significance of the change.Back to table of contents
Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 19 December 2022, ONS website, article, Returning to the workplace – the motivations and barriers for adults aged 50 years and over, Great Britain: August 2022
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