Return of the Older Women in the Office

Posted by Jeff Pelliccio on May 27, 2019 9:00:00 AM

In ICS insights, hiring trends, client

When you have children, all you want is to give them the best possible life. For many who have the luxury, that means one parent stays home while the other goes to work and makes money for the family.

Since kids are minors for nearly two decades, the one parent who decides to take on the role of homemaker would potentially be out of the job market for that long. If they had a career before their children were born, it would be likely that their previous occupation had changed considerably within that time.

With the ever-growing implementation of technology in organizations around the globe, jobs are evolving every day. It would be highly unlikely that someone who had not had a job in eighteen years could enter the workforce and pick up where they left off. This very issue has become a problem for older women who want, or need, to head back to work as their kids are leaving home for college.

This demographic has not seen as much attention as others who are benefitting from worker shortages in the United States. Some of these groups include the disabled and those without a high school or college degree.

The unemployment rate is at 3.8 percent, having dropped to the lowest level it’s seen in nearly fifty years. The Labor Department reported nearly eight million available jobs back in January of this year.

Why Return?

Many older women are not only heading back to work because they can, but also because their families took a big hit with the Great Recession from 2007-2009. Other women find themselves in the middle of a divorce, which forces them back into the market for survival. Still, others are searching for something that they can have for themselves, and that brings them joy after spending the last twenty years taking care of others.

For women who have been out of work, tending to their family, it is possible that they have lost a sense of who they are as individuals. When their kids finally leave the nest, they have the opportunity to find their purpose.

Unfortunately, many 50+ year women lack the confidence to head back to work guns blazing. They know that their skills may not be up to par with the modernization of many old positions, including the heavy emphasis on technology. Many also face employer discrimination due to their age.

Although they run into these challenges, the amount of 55+ year women who are working has increased by more than four percent in the past year. That is a substantial number when you compare that to less than a two percent rise in working women overall.

The fact that there is a large number of baby boomers could explain the increase in older women entering the workforce. The youngest boomers are turning 55 years old. Over thirty percent of female baby boomers have a college degree. This qualifies them for more positions and gives them staying power. Additionally, the jobs they take are generally less demanding on their bodies so they can work longer.

Longer Life Expectancies

Another factor that could explain the increase in older women entering the workforce is that they are living longer. With a longer lifespan, there needs to be a way to pay for those extra years. The old retirement plans are not cutting it anymore, and the private sector has mostly done away with pensions that provided a guarantee of income. College tuition has also been a source of financial strain, as costs rise each year, making it difficult for parents to give their kids the education they deserve.

It is tough to balance saving money for retirement and saving money for the children to go to college, especially if they end up going in quick succession. Combine those with them trying to find their place back in the job market after almost twenty years of absence, and it is quite the obstacle.

Though the fact that there are many jobs available should make it easier for older women to find a suitable position, there is still a fear of failure. They ask themselves whether or not they will be able to keep up with the younger generations who have been raised with budding technologies or if they will be passed over due to their age maturity.

During the Great Recession, many Americans lost their jobs. Since they had to find some way to support their families, they basically used up all of their 401(k) savings in trying to make up for the loss of income. According to an AARP survey, almost fifty percent of those who were 65+ years were working or job hunting out of necessity for money.

Others suffered from financial distress after the dotcom crash of 2000. People stopped contributing to their retirement funds and lived frugally in order to make ends meet. Many would make do with older cars and skip the big-budget vacations, in an attempt to soften the blow. 

Unfortunately, for many to stay afloat, the stay-at-home parent would have to dust off the old resume and go back to work. Two incomes would not only add a bit of comfort but would prove to be necessary for families with college-bound kids.

Although many older women reentering the job market are not expecting to start again where they left off, it is still a challenge getting back into the swing of things. It takes time to reorient oneself to the daily nine-to-five grind if you have not been on that schedule in a number of years. It definitely takes time getting used to it again.

After awhile, these women are able to feel comfortable coming and going in their new work environment. They draw on skills from their past careers and learn new ones that may not have been the norm two decades ago. Specifically, as it relates to advances in technology, it is a whole new world for some.

That said, the added income is a huge help for those former stay-at-home moms. They feel as though they can finally breathe and potentially gives their husbands a break from the pressure of carrying all of the family’s financial needs on their shoulders.

Increase in Divorce

The rate of divorced women over 50 years old doubled between 1990 and 2015, according to reports by Pew Research. Without the support of a spouse, these newly-divorced women are forced back into the job market.

As it turns out, the recession probably prevented many divorces, as couples stayed together for financial reasons. They needed the two-income household in order to pay bills and for their kids’ schooling and extracurricular activities. Now that the economy is in better shape, older women are willing to separate themselves from their spouse. They think it will be easy to find a job through the transition.

For many women over 50 years old, going back to work is fueled by both: a new divorce and a desire to find a more purposeful life as an individual. Now that they are about to send their kids off to college and no longer have to worry about a husband, they can focus on themselves.

While it might be difficult to trade in a comfortable lifestyle for one of modest means, as a single income household, it is an exciting time. They can choose to do as they please and find a new career path if that is their wish.

Many women do choose to go back to the career that they previously had, as that is where their passion lies. Others who have a knack for certain skills simply brush up on the new laws or policies and jump back into the industry without skipping a beat. Some women who never really had a path beforehand are willing to try anything. Many wind up in real estate or the mortgage lending fields.

Certain fields do seem to have a huge share of women holding positions. For example, the healthcare industry shows over seventy-five percent of its 3.5 million added jobs are held by women over the last nine years. Jobs in local government, as well as the education field, also see the majority of new jobs over the last several years going to women  

Obstacles for 50+ Working Women

Though entering the modern job market can be exciting for some, it is also very scary and anxiety-producing for others. Starting a new job, in general, is not easy, but imagine starting over in a new world where technology is changing every day. 

Old skills do not always make the transition into the contemporary work environment. Confidence is lacking in this scenario and can cause a struggle with adjustment.

Additionally, homemakers often find their lifestyles thankless and isolating. After spending years supporting others with minimal validation, it can be intimidating going into a space where their work is consistently being reviewed.

Another obstacle that older women face is discrimination against age and gender. It is an unfortunate reality, but a very real one.

Many older women feel this discrimination in the interview process, and it actually discourages them. When they feel put down just because of age, it makes it harder for them to go deeper down the job search road.

In an attempt to work around these obstacles, older women opt to start businesses of their own. They use their houses as collateral and open a business franchise or become independent consultants.

That said, many women do want to go back into a more traditional job. The attraction lies in feeling like a professional with a purpose once again. They also want to have that adult interaction and intellectual stimulation that may have been lacking as a stay-at-home mom.

While many agree that they would never change one thing about choosing to spend those formative years with their children, there is an overwhelming sense that their value has been depleted. By becoming a working woman in the job market, they are able to see the tangible effects of their work, which makes them feel like an important member of society.

If you are looking to diversify your workplace, team up with ICS. We can add these contributors to your team and add that extra value that will pull you forward.

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