Easing the transition: The relationship between alcohol and labour market activity in the over 50s population of the UK

Dec 12, 2016 | REPORTS

This report sets out the specific barriers and challenges faced by over 50s with current or previous drinking problems at three stages of labour market activity: unemployment, employment and retirement.

At each stage, this report shows that there is a pressing need for action, not just for the emotional and physical wellbeing of our over 50s population, but for the wider UK economy and the productivity of the UK labour force. This group of over 50s often suffer multiple levels of stigmatisation due to their age, history of alcohol problems and employment status. There is a need for central and local government, employers and the third sector to address these barriers now in order to prevent alcohol-related harm in the over 50s population of the UK.

Several important findings have emerged from this research:

Alcohol and over 50s seeking employment

  • The barriers faced by this group can be at an individual level, such as low self-esteem, or institutional, such as employers not willing to employ this group.
  • Just 16% of employers would hire someone with previous alcohol problems.
  • 40% of older men (aged 55-64) and older women (aged 55-59) on Jobseeker’s Allowance are an increasing risk drinker, almost twice the proportion of the next highest age group, those aged 16-24.
  • Compared to over 50s still in work in the Drink Wise, Age Well survey, those ‘looking for work’ were more than three times as likely to be a higher risk drinker. And for those ‘unable to work’ (possibly due to health reasons), this increased to more than five times as likely.
  • Many over 50s who are seeking to re-enter the workforce after episodes of problem drinking will have been out of employment for long periods, and will need specific help in regaining skills and confidence. This can be particularly important in areas that have experienced deindustrialisation, which has been shown to be associated with problem drinking in local populations.

Alcohol and over 50s in employment

  • Alcohol problems can cost UK employers money in terms of workplace absence and lost productivity. On an individual level, all over 50s should be supported, if required, to enjoy a happy and healthy work life towards the later stages of their career.
  • Nearly 30% of over 50s in the ‘professional’ occupational classes drink 5-7 days a week, the highest of any occupational class.
  • The latest wave of Understanding Society shows that it is older ages (60-69) of the professional occupational class that are most likely to be high risk drinkers; whilst only 6% under the age of 30 drink heavily, nearly 25% of those aged 60-69 drink heavily. Significant numbers of this group could be nearing the significant life transition of retirement drinking potentially harmful amounts of alcohol.
  • It is crucial for the UK’s productivity, economic health and an individual’s personal wellbeing for employers to do more to prevent  lcohol problems in their older workforce, and to provide support if problem drinking does develop.

Alcohol and over 50s transitioning into or currently in retirement

  • Retirement is one of the most significant life transitions people go through. For many this will be a positive experience. However, some older adults will enter retirement with established alcohol problems, and others may develop alcohol problems due to the changes in their life due to retirement.
  • Our analysis has shown that those who have recently entered retirement are statistically significantly more likely to drink almost every day than those who are still in work, or are longerterm retirees.
  • There is also a statistically significant relationship between retiring before 60 and being a high risk drinker, with this group more likely to be a high risk drinker than those who retire in their 60s.
  • There is currently limited support from employers, Government and the third sector in terms of guidance, support and advice in helping those entering retirement maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol.
  • Many older adults maintain a healthy social relationship with alcohol in retirement, and researchers can learn more from this group as to why some older adults struggle with their drinking post-retirement.


Authors: George Holley-Moore, Dr Brian Beach and Dr Cesira Urzi Brancati