Mid life / later careers – ignored long enough

Economists are reporting that the ‘100 year life’ is already upon us, bringing a whole range of challenges and opportunities resulting from longer working lives (Gratton and Scott, 2016). Additionally, the Office for National Statistics in the UK report that the over-50s are the fastest growing population of workers. They also report a dip in happiness and a spike in anxiety at mid-life suggesting it can be a challenging time (ONS, 2018). Pension ages are increasing in many countries, and legislation is being introduced to protect older workers with governments encouraging people to work longer. 

Careers research suggests workers in their late careers face unique career and psychosocial issues, (McNair et al., 2004; Watts et al., 2015; Erodogan et al., 2011; Feldman, 2007; Newman, 1995; Post et al., 2012) but there is very little empirical research into what this might mean for careers support let alone the newer discipline of coaching.

So, if this is the fastest growing population of worker – why aren’t they better represented in our professional publications?

In my experience this subject is multi-disciplinary in nature and useful insight is spread across the worlds of career guidance, counselling, education, business, change, leadership, psychology and medicine. For example, the National Institute for Career Education and Counselling (NICEC) produce robust and interesting research which I may never have discovered had a work contact not suggested I take a look when I told her about my own research. It would be great if we could find better ways of working and sharing across boundaries.

Maybe there is also a lag between research and practice. It is often the case that it takes time to bridge this gap in useful ways. For example, 20 years ago careers writers were signposting the death of defined career paths – but only now are some professions shifting to a career-matrix type model where individuals can progress their careers in multiple directions to better respond to the pace of change and needs of different groups.

In summary, I suggest for this issue – more is more! More empirical research, more sharing and synthesising, and more translating it into practical and usable tools and materials.


Erodogan, B., et al. (2011) ‘Overqualified employees: making the best of a potentially bad situation for individuals and organisations’, Industrial and Organisational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 4(2), pp. 215-232.

Feldman, D. C. (2007) ‘Career mobility and career stability among older workers’, in Shultz, K.S. & Adams, G.A. (eds.) Aging and work in the 21st century. Mahwar, N.J.: Erlbaum, pp. 179-197.

Gratton, L. and Scott, A. (2016) The 100 Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. London: Bloomsbury Business.

McNair, S., et al. (2004) ‘Changing work in later life: a study of job transitions’. Guildford: Centre for Research into the Older Worker.

Newman, B. K. (1995) ‘Career Change for Those Over 40: Critical Issues and Insight’, The Career Development Quarterly, 44(1), pp. 64-66.

Office of National Statistics – Summary of Employment and Labour Market Statistics (January 2019) 

Post, C., et al. (2012) ‘Pathways to retirement: A career stage analysis of retirement age expectations’, Human Relations, 66(1), pp. 87-112.

Watts, J., et al. (2015) ‘Mid Life Career Review: Final Report to the Department for Business and Skills’. Leicester: National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (England and Wales).

Image: Crystalinks.com

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