The transformation of retirement? The UK and the US compared.

  • Lain, David (PI)

    Project Details


    Working beyond age 65 has been common in the US, a country that abolished mandatory retirement ages a quarter of a century ago. The UK has followed suit by abolishing its own ‘default retirement age’ of 65 in 2011. With rising state pension ages in both countries, it is instructive to investigate the US experience and consider the implications.

    In 2011, the Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship provided three years of funding enabling David Lain to explore the changing nature of work and retirement in the UK and US.

    During the course of his research, Lain analysed policy reforms to extend working lives, the factors influencing employment past age 65 and the jobs done by these workers. His research identifies the limits to an extended working life agenda.

    The project objectives were:
    > to provide a theoretically informed explanation for why employment rates past 65 have been higher in the US than the UK, and why this is likely to remain the case
    > to highlight the inequalities and problems that exist with regard to working beyond age 65 in both countries that are neglected by policy
    > to outline life-course policies that support individuals in terms of positive and equitable work/retirement outcomes.

    Key findings

    Major findings were:

    > High US employment past age 65 has been underpinned by a series of policies promoting self-reliance via employment in older age. The UK is now moving toward the US approach, by increasing employment rights beyond age 65 and residualising the safety net below state pension age.
    > In this context, we can expect significant increases in people working past 65 for financial reasons. However, statistical analysis presented shows that employment is strongly influenced by the socio-economic factors and the capacity to work. Lower health and education leave the poorest least likely to work in both countries.
    > Working in older age may depend on the ability to move into new work. Such job movements are less common in the UK than the US, with little evidence this is changing. In part, this is due to low qualifications among many Britons.
    > The project outlines a series of ‘life course policies’ that would support people in retiring or working in realistic and equitable ways.

    Dr Lain presented research on extending working life at the European Economic and Social Committee of the European Parliament in Brussels and has published book chapters and articles on this topic in journals including Work Employment and Society and the Journal of Social Policy.

    Dr Lain's subsequent book, Reconstructing retirement. Work and welfare in the UK and the US, assesses prospects for work and retirement at age 65-plus in the UK and US and explores the reconstruction of retirement policy, changing retirement incomes and regulation and examines pathways, capabilities and choices relating to work for the over-65s. He investigates the current situation and considers policy alternatives. Pathways to employment after 65 are complex and pressures to work at this age are likely to result in very unequal outcomes. 


    Lain, D (2016) Reconstructing Retirement. Work and Welfare in the UK and USA. Bristol: Policy Press.

    Lain, D Mandatory retirement, in M. Harrington Meyer (Ed.), The Sage Encyclopedia on Aging: Sage.

    Lain, D Work beyond retirement age in the England and the United States, in S. Scherger (Ed.), Work Beyond Retirement Age in Comparative Perspective. London: Palgrave.

    Lain, D and Vickerstaff, S. (2014) Working beyond retirement age: lessons for policy’, in S. Harper (Ed.), International Handbook on Ageing and Public Policy. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

    Lain, D (2013) Extending the working life: Employment beyond typical retirement age, Presentation at the European Economic and Social Committee of the European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium, June, 2013.

    Loretto, W, Lain, D and Vickerstaff, S. (2013) Rethinking retirement: Changing realities for older workers and employee relations?, Employee Relations, 35 (3): 248-256.

    Lain, D, Loretto, W. and Vickerstaff, S. (2013) Reforming state pension provision in ‘liberal’ Anglo-Saxon countries: re-commodification, cost-containment or recalibration?’, Social Policy and Society, 12 (1): 77-90.

    April 2012 - David Lain was interviewed by the Voice of Russia Radio (London) on the possibility of increases to the UK state pension age. Also interviewed as part of a broader panel discussion were Ros Altmann (Pensions expert and Head of Saga), Kamaljeet Jandu (National Officer for the GMB union) and Mike Morrisson (Head of Pensions Development, AXA).

    Lain, D (2012) Working past 65 in the UK and USA: Segregation into ‘Lopaq’ occupations? Work, Employment and Society 26 (1): 83-91.

    Lain, D (2011) Helping the poorest help themselves? Working past 65 in England and the USA, Journal of Social Policy 40(3): 493-512.

    Effective start/end date1/09/1131/08/14


    Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.