The number of women working past the age of 70 has doubled in the past four years, according to official figures that also reveal one in seven men are continuing in the workforce into old age, amid growing concerns over the bleak outlook for pensions.

Office for National Statistics data reveals that 15.5% of men are still in employment at the age of 70, a sharp increase from 10% in 2012. The rise in women working past the traditional retirement age has been even more pronounced, doubling from 5.6% to 11.3%, according to investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown, which analysed the ONS figures.

women working past 70

Much of the increase is down to the abolition of compulsory retirement in 2011. Many older workers say they are happy to continue in employment, but pension experts say women in particular have low levels of savings, and some are being forced to work longer to supplement meagre pensions.

Nathan Long, analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “The increase in the number of people working over 70 is predominately because they want to work later, not because they need to. But we do expect that to shift rapidly as final salary pension schemes are phased out, and more people come to retirement underfunded.”

Many women also do not get the full state pension because of gaps in their national insurance contributions, caused by career breaks to raise children or to care for elderly relatives.

Ann Green, who runs a fabric stall called Avon Textiles in St Nicholas Market, Bristol, told the BBC she was still working at 70 because of a lack of pension savings. “We always invested our money into the business and into property to help us feel secure – so no other security at all. It would certainly be a struggle, and life would have to change if we stopped work.”

In addition, several hundred thousand women born in the 1950s have had their retirement plans “shattered”, campaigners say, due to the planned equalisation of the state pension age for men and women to 65 by November 2018. This rises to 66 by 2020, and 67 between 2026 and 2028. After that it will be linked to life expectancy.

Last year Labour’s Frank Field said women caught in the pension age trap were £40,000 out of pocket with many having to sell their homes and go without essentials because of unfair changes to the state pension age.

He highlighted how many women born in the 1950s have been “grotesquely disadvantaged” by the government’s handling and communication of the changes.

Men, who are far less likely to take career breaks, have fared better. The figures show that while more are working past 70, there has also been a surge in the number of men aged 51-55 taking early retirement. Hargreaves Lansdown said these were men with high levels of pension wealth who were taking advantage of new pension freedoms to fund early retirement.

But for most, “the best days of well-funded early retirement are behind us,” Long said. “The risk to employers is of a workforce trapped in jobs they don’t want to do, which will inevitably impact on productivity.”

The government has already set out its vision for fulfilling working lives, but employers need to embrace flexible working, retraining of employees and the transfer of a lifetime of knowledge, Hargreaves Lansdown said. It also called on the government to introduce a national retirement review at the age of 50.


Julia Kollewe

The GuardianTramp

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