British research on exit from the labour market has been mainly concerned with men, but US research shows retirement for women is equally salient. Gender differences in attitudes to employment and reasons for early exit are relevant to employment and pension policy.
In this paper, we use data from the Social Change and Economic Life Initiative survey to examine gender differences in attitudes to employment among over 2,500 British women and men aged 40 to 59. A key concern was to discover whether the decline in mid-life women's employment through their fifties could be explained by a change in attitudes with age, or was more likely to be due to age-related barriers in the labour market.
Analysis shows that among mid-life people who were not employed, financial considerations were the predominant influence on men's job-seeking whereas for women psychosocial aspects of having a job were also important. Mid-life women showed no decline in their motivation towards employment with age, indicating that women's early exit cannot be explained by reduced desire for employment with age. However, there was evidence of perceived age barriers to employment or promotion which were likely to have affected behaviour and attitudes.