Half of unemployed men aged 50+ out of work for a year or more, study finds

Commentators call on employers to address age discrimination by reviewing recruitment and selection processes

Half of unemployed men over the age of 50 have been out of work for at least a year, research has found, with experts calling on employers to change the way they recruit to support older workers.

A study of data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), conducted by Rest Less, found that of the 200,000 men aged 50 or over who were unemployed in the three months to November 2021, 99,000 had been out of a job for at least 12 months.

This was an increase of 69 per cent from pre-pandemic levels, and 59,000 higher than the same period in 2019.

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Additionally, a quarter (28 per cent) of this group were unemployed for more than two years, an increase of 3 per cent compared to 2019.

Zofia Bajorek, senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), said organisations had “a long way to go to address age discrimination”, and suggested that employers review their recruitment and selection procedures to make sure older workers were not being disadvantaged.

“Advertising jobs widely, using job applications that reduce implicit and explicit age cues, and using interview processes that mitigate potential age bias” are all ways that employers can reduce the risk of age discrimination, she said.

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“Doing this would mean that older workers have a fairer chance in recruitment, selection and progressions, allowing employers the opportunity to benefit from a diverse and more experienced workforce” she added.

The analysis found that men in other age groups were less likely to be long-term unemployed: only a quarter (27 per cent) of unemployed men aged 18 to 24, and 40 per cent of men aged 25 to 49 year olds, had been out of work for a year or more.

Meanwhile, the majority (59 per cent) of unemployed men aged 18 to 24 years old had been out of work for six months or less, with the same being true for 46 per cent of men aged 25 to 49 years old.

In comparison, just two-thirds (38 per cent) of men aged 50 and over were unemployed for less than six months, and just 12 per cent were unemployed for between 6 to 12 months.

John Boys, labour market economist at the CIPD, said that unemployment for older workers could be “stubborn and persist for longer”, while younger workers “churn in and out of unemployment relatively quickly”.

With the risk of older workers becoming “disenfranchised” and dropping out of the market completely, Boys said now was a “good time for employers to design jobs that work for everyone”, adding that older workers “particularly value flexibility around hours worked”.

Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, said that the figures were “shocking” and a “timely wake up call to government and industry”. “We need to do more to ensure that our post-pandemic jobs plan supports people of all ages,” he said.

He added that despite the widely-held belief that older age groups have “all the money”, the reality for men aged 50 and over was often bleaker. “Faced with a rapidly increasing state pension age and widespread ageism in the recruitment process, once out of work, many struggle to make ends meet until they reach the safety net of the state pension.

“Today’s cohort of 50- and 60-year-olds falls between the cracks of missing out on the gold-plated final salary pensions their parents enjoyed, while also missing out on a full working life under new pensions auto-enrolment” said Lewis.

Emily Andrews, deputy director for evidence at the Centre for Ageing Better, said that this age group has been the “hardest hit” from the post-pandemic rise in unemployment. While the government’s investment in the new Plan for Jobs could mean more support for jobseekers aged 50 and over, she called for more to be done.

“Now is the time for [the Department for Work and Pensions] to ensure it is tackling the biggest problem it faces; by setting high service standards for 50+ clients, encouraging innovative practice among their providers, and gathering robust data on effective practice so that future generations can reap the benefits” she said.