The spotlight has been shining on women over 50 in the past few weeks.
Firstly, the high court ruled that women are not entitled to pension age change compensation for money they lost when the pension age was raised from 60 to 66.
Then, weeks later, research showed that the gender pay gap is highest for women in their 50s, with women’s average salaries at this age being 28% lower than men’s. This means that the average salary for a woman in her 50s is a staggering £12,509 less than a man’s at the same age.
It’s worth noting that the pension income gap is even larger than the gender pay gap - a whopping 38.5% with is a serious issue facing women over 50, with the average woman aged 65-69 clocking up a pension that is just a fifth the size of a man of the same age.
With a study from the Centre for Better Ageing showing that twice as many people over 50 are unemployed (compared to 16-24-year-olds), it seems women over 50 are facing both gender discrimination and age discrimination in the workplace.
Our "Locked out of Learning" report shows worrying trends for older women and skills, that when considered alongside this become even more concerning.
Our findings show that mothers aged 51 and over are far less like to have engaged in formal learning opportunities to update their skills and knowledge in the last 3 years. They are also almost twice as likely to have not learned in 5 years or more.
So why is this?
Our research explored the barriers mothers face to engaging in learning opportunities. Some themes echoed across all age groups with the barrier of cost coming out top for most age groups, with the exception of older mothers. 42% of mothers aged 18-30 cited cost as a barrier but this drops to 29% for mothers aged 51 and over. Given less than 5% of adult education funding goes to people over 50, this doesn’t come as a great surprise. You can read more about this in our previous blog here.
There were, however, some specific challenges facing older mothers. These were related to confidence in their abilities, which sadly were some of the biggest barriers they faced.
Our study shows that confidence issues were hardest felt by older mothers with 25% of mothers over the age of 51 lacking the confidence to learn something new. 28% said they felt they were too old to learn.
But is it true you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
Thankfully, this is not true. However, what is true is that it can take older people extra time to learn, so you may find things take a little longer. If you do learn though, despite it taking perhaps 20-30% longer, you are likely to learn to the same standard as a young person.
Take the plunge
There is a large evidence base linking learning to a range of benefits, particularly for learning that is skills-focused. These have the potential to deliver significant outcomes for mothers over 50.
1. Getting a job
Participating in adult learning (particularly skills-based training) moves people back into the labour market. As research shows women over 50 are twice as likely to be unemployed this could have a significant impact on older women. Given the pension age has increased from 60 to 65 and is set to increase further getting into rewarding work is more important than ever for women over 50.
2. Increased earnings
Adult learning helps people increase their lifetime earnings. 29% of women who completed an adult learning course indicated that they had got a better job, while 12% of women indicated that they had received a promotion. Adult learning could support women in their 50s to start to reverse the gender pay gap and the pensions gap.
3. Increased self-esteem
The NHS recommends learning for mental wellbeing. Evidence shows that learning increases our self-esteem, encourages social interaction and gives us a sense of hope and purpose in life. So if you do make it onto the learning ladder you might just find that your confidence is given a major boost.
Our "Locked out of Learning" findings demonstrate that mothers over 50 are facing significant issues with self-esteem and lack confidence in their abilities.
According to the Centre for Ageing Better’s “State of Ageing” report we have an ageing population and if we want those over 50 and 60 to be financially secure and happy, we need to ensure they can work for as long as they want to, free from age bias and discrimination.
So is adult learning the answer to better ageing for older women?
This blog is an extract from our new report “Locked out of Learning” exploring why mothers aren’t learning and how this is impacting their careers.
100 years ago this month the Ministry of Reconstruction’s adult education committee published its Final Report on Adult Education. This report argued for the importance of adult education for the nation’s welfare and security and laid the foundations for adult education in the UK for decades to come. 100 years on we have commissioned research to examine the impact motherhood has on female careers and employment levels, with a focus on the potential of adult learning as a solution to support mothers into rewarding work.
This month, we are sharing the report, infographics and stories from women that bring life to our key findings as well as our recommendations for Government, employers and other learning providers. Check out the full report here or the executive summary here.