When you think about the self-employed, does your mind conjure up salubrious hipsters sipping from cold brew coffees in trendy cafes? Freelancer stereotypes might be all millennial creatives, but that’s certainly not the reality. When you dissect the data, you might be surprised to find that it’s actually the over 50s that are dominating the freelance workforce.
A 2019 study showed that, in the UK:
- There is a general rise in the self-employed with the number increasing from 3.85 million to 4.92 million in the last 10 years.
- 77% of this 1.1 million increase is accounted for by the over 50s turning to freelancing.
- 46% of the UK’s self-employed workforce are now over 50 and 19% are over 60.
- There are now almost 2.3 million freelancers over the age of 50 and almost a million freelancers over the age of 60.
Women have dominated this trend with the number of female freelancers growing by 55% compared to 36% for men over this time frame.
So why are the over 50s turning to the freelance lifestyle?
There are a myriad of reasons that underpin this trend, some of them good, some of them bad and some of them downright ugly.
The good | Independence day
Let’s deal with the positive forces first.
The research indicates that women in their 50s are turning to freelancing to gain more independence, more freedom to apply their experience in their own way and an entrepreneurial attitude of wanting to build a business around their skillset. So for some freelancers, the driving force for change has been a very positive one.
The bad | An ageing society and ageist attitude
Evidence definitively shows that the freelance over 50 trend is partly attributable to age discrimination. Older workers can often feel invisible in the workforce.
A study from the Centre for Better Ageing shows that twice as many people over 50 are unemployed, compared to 18-24-year-olds. And the over 50s are twice as likely to struggle to find a new job if they're made redundant at work. In the US, there’s a 50:50 chance of losing your job involuntarily after 50. So they risk being caught in an unemployment trap.
At work, they are also struggling. A 2019 study shows that three-quarters of workers in their 50s feel like they have hit a ceiling in terms of their career progression.
It’s possible that due to ageism, they are being pushed into freelancing.
With the state pension age rising and people living longer, another study shows that over half think they will have to keep working to earn into their old age and 10% think they will have to keep working until they die. 58% plan on topping up their pension with gig work. And only 1 in 3 think they will have the same standard of living in their retirement. It’s no wonder they are rethinking and future-proofing their career options!
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. And freelance options are clearly an important piece of this puzzle.
Another important factor to consider is that due to the ageing population, many people over 50 are having to care for their elderly relatives. And women are carrying the additional care load here. According to our favourite statistician Caroline Criado Perez, women make up 70% of all unpaid dementia carers in the UK and are 2.5 times more likely than men to be on-call around the clock as a carer.
So these women are looking for more flexibility to fit their work around these caring commitments. And let’s face it, we all know there is a major lack of flexible work options out there (we’ve written about it extensively). So for many women over 50, the only option is to work for yourself.
The ugly | A double whammy for women
For women, when age discrimination meets entrenched workplace gender discrimination, it whips up a perfect storm. And when women have taken time out of the labour market to care for children, you get a double whammy.
Women that have taken an extended break from the labour market to raise their family, particularly those over 50, are most at risk and the obstacles they face when looking to return from an extended period away from work can often feel insurmountable.
What’s so great about freelancing?
Well, when freelancing you obviously have total control over the hours you work, often where you work, and who with. So that’s a big plus. Evidence shows 67% have a higher life satisfaction score, for these reasons and more. Research also shows that the over 50 freelancers earn more and work fewer hours than younger freelancers, with the over 65s earning an average of £40,000 per annum working just 21 hours a week, which is £7,000 more than the average and 7 hours less. So they get paid £7K more for working a day less. Nice. And 71% said they are now either about the same or better off financially than when they were in full-time employment.
What’s bad about it?
It’s not all a walk in the park (at whatever time of day you fancy). There are challenges. The same study found that 41% of freelancers worry about not having the predictability of income that comes with being in a secure job. And over 1 in 3 find managing the financial side of things - the accounts, taxes, expenses etc - to be a problem. In addition, 45% of self-employed people aged 35 - 54 have no private pension nor do they benefit from employer pension contributions. So that’s something to consider for people that are thinking of going freelance.
A US study also showed that freelancers in their 50s and 60s were underemployed and only 48% of those aged 50 - 64 said they had all the work they wanted, showing that finding client work is also a challenge for some freelancers. So it’s not necessarily an easy ride.
If you are thinking of going freelance, or perhaps you’re one of the women in this over 50 freelance demographic already, it makes sense to invest in doing it properly. Digital Mums has just launched our “Becoming a Successful Freelancer” course to support freelancers to succeed in their career choice. We also run free taster lessons throughout the year on various helpful topics for those looking to learn more about this way of working.
There are common barriers that can get in the way and our course is designed to help you to overcome these:
- Strategic barriers | Difficulty in setting the right strategy for building a freelance career. Many women find it hard to develop a clear offering and understanding of who they should be working for and what to charge.
- Practical barriers | A lack of skills needed to market and sell their services effectively, with a limited understanding of how to develop a sales funnel to build a continuous pipeline of new clients.
- Psychological barriers | A crisis of confidence. Many women are held back by a lack of confidence and this means they find it harder to win work, earn the right fees and they face a constant struggle with over-delivering, which can leave them overworked and stressed about money. Freelancing can also be a lonely business so they can become socially isolated.
The course covers:
- Coach-led sessions to develop the right mindset and overcome your limiting self-beliefs.
- Practical resources to develop your USP and personal brand to stand out and speak to your dream clients.
- More support around crafting a killer LinkedIn profile that looks great and helps you be found by potential clients.
- Guidance on setting the right pricing strategy.
- Understanding how to build a sales funnel for your freelance business.
- Knowing how to use LinkedIn to generate new leads and clients.
- Developing a marketing plan with an evaluation system to ensure you're focusing on the right elements.
- Managing client relationships.
- Choosing and using the best digital tools to help you freelance successfully.
Admissions for our “Becoming a Successful Freelancer” course are currently closed, however you can sign up to our waiting list HERE.