Economic inactivity among men aged between 50-64 highest on record, official figures show

But despite ‘mass exodus’ of older workers, one in five who left the labour market during the pandemic would consider returning

Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Economic inactivity among older men below retirement age is at its highest level since records began, a study of official data has found.

The analysis of employment data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), conducted by Rest Less, found the number of men aged between 50 and 64 who were not employed or looking for work increased to nearly 1.5 million this year.

This was a jump of 179,000 (13 per cent) since the start of the pandemic, and the highest level since 1992 when the ONS started collecting comparable data.


Labour market data points to older worker 'exodus' as vacancies continue to rise

What does the law say about compulsory retirement ages?

Twice as many over-50s leaving labour market because of ill-health than retirement, union warns


The rate of economic inactivity among men aged 50 to 64 is currently at a nine-year high of 23.1 per cent, reversing a long-term downward trend that had lasted nearly 30 years.

Additionally, data from December 2021 to February 2022 showed that half (51 per cent) of men aged 50 to 64 had been unemployed for at least 12 months, while since March 2020 nearly a quarter of a million (245,000) men over the age of 50 have claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance and/or some out-of-work Universal Credit benefits, an increase of 37 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.

Stuart Lewis, chief executive of Rest Less, said this analysis should “send much needed alarm bells ringing”. 


Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter


While some in this age group will have chosen to stop working – “re-appraising what’s important to them” following the pandemic – Lewis said many will have been forced to stop working by poor health, caring responsibilities or redundancies and may not be “financially or emotionally prepared” for such a big change.

Workers in their 50s and 60s were also less likely to receive workplace training and more likely to face age discrimination in the recruitment process than their younger counterparts, he said, making them “significantly more likely to end up in long term unemployment” once out of work.

This “mass exodus” of experienced workers posed a risk to business and society, Lewis added: “Not only does this equate to a serious loss of talent but it also impacts on team productivity, efficiency and cognitive diversity within teams.”

Analysis by Rest Less of a separate set of data from the ONS also found one in five (22 per cent) over-50s who had left the workforce during the pandemic would not rule out returning either to work either through employment or self-employment. This rose to 31 per cent among those under the state pension age.

The study also showed men were more likely than women to consider returning to employment after leaving, with 25 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women reporting this.

Lewis said the survey should be a “massive wake-up call” for employers. “Progressive employers that invest in measures such as flexible working, all-age apprenticeships and retraining and upskilling for employees of all ages” are more likely to benefit from the skills of this experienced group, he said.