In the near future, childcare might not be the only activity
limiting women's involvement in the labour market. Data from
Britain shows that already 15% of women aged 50 and over are
providing informal care for an elderly person.
Given rising life expectancy and greater numbers of people
surviving into 'old' old age, it is likely that elder care
responsibilities will increase across all the countries considered
here and that the burden of this additional care may well fall
disproportionately on women. This is shown by recent research done
by University of Southampton. They expect that a high proportion of
those who take on caring responsibilities in mid-life are in
part-time work or have to give up work altogether.
Therefore, it is quite likely that a combination of unpaid care
and paid labour will continue to be a characteristic feature of
women's work-biographies - and subsequently a big challenge to our
'Women friendly' pensions
Jane C. Falkingham, Director of the ESRC Centre for Population
Change (UK), and her research team suggest that 'women friendly'
pension systems should both, reward their contributions in paid
work, as well as valued unpaid activities like caring for children
and elderly. Falkingham:"For example, by more explicitly linking
credited contributions to valued activities, as it is already
happening in the UK and Germany, and by de-coupling spouse and
survivor benefits from women's own entitlements."
It is well-documented that women typically fare worse than men
in retirement on measures of economic well-being. Cross-national
comparisons of retirement outcomes by gender and other
socioeconomic characteristics have found that poverty rates are
consistently higher among older women, in particular older women
living alone, and that this pattern is evident in all countries to
The lower incomes of women are linked to their assumed role as
primary carers and the impact this has on their engagement in the
labour market and consequently their ability to build up an
adequate income for their retirement.
Here there is undoubted room for improvement, for example by
more explicitly linking credited contributions to valued
activities, such as caring for younger children (as is already
happening in the UK and Germany), and by de-coupling spouse and
survivor benefits from women's own entitlements in order to reward
prior contributions (including a proper valuation of unpaid caring
The association between older women's incomes and work histories
is strongest in West Germany and weakest in the UK, where there is
evidence of a 'pensions poverty trap' and where only predominantly
full-time employment is associated with significantly higher
incomes in later life. Work history matters less for widows (in all
three countries) and more for recent birth cohorts and more
educated women (UK only).