Women’s economic activity trajectories over the life course: implications for the self-rated health of women aged 60+ in England

Juliet A. Stone, University of Southampton
Maria Evandrou, University of Southampton
Jane C. Falkingham, University of Southampton
Athina Vlachantoni, University of Southampton

Previous research has highlighted the importance of accumulated life course labour market status for understanding inequalities in health in later life amongst men. Similar research is however lacking for women despite the fact that women’s role in the labour market changed substantially during the second half of the twentieth century. This paper contributes to the literature by investigating the association between women’s life-course economic activity trajectories and self-rated health in later life. In addition the paper provides, for England, a new classification of women’s life-course economic activity trajectories that takes the timing, sequence and duration of changing labour market status into account. We use optimal matching analysis and cluster analysis to produce a taxonomy of women’s life-course economic activity trajectories based on their experiences between ages 16 and 60 years. Our results indicate that even in the socio-historical context of changing women’s roles, a relatively limited set of five trajectories emerge as the dominant patterns of women’s economic activity over the life course. However, we find that the more ‘flexible’ patterns including temporary breaks from paid employment to look after a home and family are more common among younger cohorts. In regression analysis, we further show that for women, being in full-time paid employment across the life course is not necessarily good for their later health, while women who combine full-time work with family life appear to have the most favourable outcomes. We discuss these findings with reference to the accumulation of social and economic resources over the life course and the balancing of multiple roles in work and family domains. We conclude that development of policies that facilitate women, if they wish, to successfully combine paid employment with family life could have a positive impact on their health in later life.

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Presented in Session 29: Trajectories into old age