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Did you know that your country of residence can determine whether earlier family responsibilities still influence late working life trajectories?

November 2023

Ageing societies face challenges like a shortage of skilled workers and rising pension costs. While raising the retirement age partly addresses these issues, it also exacerbates inequalities, particularly between women and men. Balancing unpaid care work (e.g., childcare) with employment is difficult to achieve, leading women to interrupt their careers. However, withdrawing from the labor market due to family commitments can gradually erode professional expertise. This situation can pose additional challenges for women later in life when considering a return to the workforce. Effective strategies to mitigate these lifelong disadvantages for women are currently lacking in Europe, with social policies and cultural contexts playing a crucial role.

In a study honored with the Best Paper Award of the German Gerontological Association (DGGG), ISS researcher Lea Ellwardt, together with Wiebke Schmitz and Laura Naegele from the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training, as well as Frerich Frerichs from the Institute of Gerontology at the University of Vechta, conducted research on late-career trajectories among individuals aged 50 to 65. They explored how these trajectories could be influenced by earlier family events, taking into account the country of residence. The study utilized retrospective survey data from the "Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe" (SHARELIFE), involving a total of 10,913 women and 10,614 men from 21 European countries.

The findings suggest that early-life family responsibilities tend to prevent women from pursuing later careers, leading them to be more inclined towards part-time employment or unpaid domestic work. In contrast, men are less affected by such early family events and tend to remain engaged in full-time employment. Women, therefore, cannot simply shake off earlier disadvantages, as these persist and impact them throughout their later careers. However, this link depends on the country of residence:  The participation of women in the labor market is higher, especially in countries where the promotion of gender equality is more advanced both in terms of social policy and culture (e.g., public childcare, traditional gender roles). In Nordic countries like Sweden, women tend to encounter lower levels of inequality, whereas, in Western nations like Germany and Southern countries such as Greece, women face more pronounced disadvantages.