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  • Author or Editor: Áine Ní Léime x
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This chapter explores expectations of the transition to retirement for older women workers in Ireland in the context of policies introduced in recent years to raise state pension age comparatively quickly. It focuses on the retirement plans of workers in two very different occupations – teaching and home care work. Data from interviews with ten women in each occupation are analyzed, using a life course perspective. Both teachers and healthcare workers disagree with the proposed increase in state pension age. Workers face very different options at retirement; teachers are protected by having typically stable employment trajectories with good pay and generous occupational pensions and most can retire early on full pension. By contrast, healthcare workers may need to work for longer because of disrupted employment trajectories, lower pay and low or no occupational pensions, leaving them dependent on the state pension. An increase in state pension age is a blunt policy instrument that exacerbates existing relative disadvantage for home care workers. The policy implications are discussed.

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This chapter documents international policy developments and provides a gender critique of retirement, employment and pension policies in Australia, Ireland, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, the UK, and the US. It assesses the degree to which the individual country’s extended working life policies have adopted the agenda (increasing pension age and introducing flexible working) set out by the OECD and the EU. Policies include raising state pension age, changes in the duration of pension contribution requirements, the move from defined benefits to defined contribution pensions, policies on caring for vulnerable members of the population, policies enabling flexible working and anti-age discrimination measures. An expanded framework is used to assess the degree to which gender and other intersecting issues such as health, caring, class, type of occupation and/or membership of minority communities have (or have not) been taken into account in designing and implementing policies extending working life.

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Active ageing is recommended by international policy bodies including the World Health Organisation as a means to tackle the challenges of demographic ageing. This chapter considers active ageing in Ireland in a time of austerity, specifically assessing older people’s involvement in social participation, creative activities and volunteering in Ireland. It investigates the motivations for, potential benefits from and barriers to participation in such activities. It discusses how certain groups, (including the oldest old, those with mobility issues and men) may be under-represented in terms of participation. The chapter draws on three mixed methods empirical studies to illuminate the findings. The chapter concludes that while social benefits and an enhanced quality of life are associated with such engagement, governments need to ensure that such programmes are adequately resourced so that all groups of older people may participate and that older people are not overburdened providing services that ought to be provided by the state.

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Critical Perspectives from Ireland

Demographic ageing is identified as a global challenge with significant social policy implications. This book explores these implications, with a particular focus on the pressures and prospects for ageing societies in the context of austerity.

The book presents a carefully crafted study of ageing in Ireland, one of the countries hardest hit by the Eurozone financial crisis. Providing a close, critical analysis of ageing and social policy that draws directly on the perspectives of older people, the text makes significant advances in framing alternatives to austerity-driven government policy and neoliberalism, giving a refreshing interdisciplinary account of contemporary ageing.

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This chapter discusses extended working life policies in Ireland from a critical gender and life course perspective. It provides a contextualised discussion of the current nature of women’s participation in the labour market, including diversity of occupation and employment status and family friendly policies and discuss how this shapes pension provision. The structure of the pension system is outlined describing women’s current outcomes in terms of the type and level of pensions. Next is a discussion of reforms that have been introduced to pensions and employment policy and a consideration of the likely gender implications of these reforms, drawing on experiences in other countries and the OECD’s projections. Finally, undertaking new analysis of the most recent data available, the impact of the recession, particularly on precarious employment among older workers is assessed and the impact of health disparities on employment and pension prospects is considered. Possible alternative policy approaches and/or modifications that would ensure that gender equality as well as cost-containment is pursued, are considered.

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A gender gap in pension provision is widely recognised as a feature of most European pension systems that are often constructed on traditional gender norms of male breadwinner/female carer. Surprisingly in the discourse on pension reforms, whose urgency is argued in light of the burden of demographic ageing and the threat of expanding fiscal crisis of state budgets, little attention is paid to the ways in which these reforms would differentially impact women and men. This chapter discusses the gendered consequences of pension reforms, with a particular focus on older women workers in Ireland in a time of austerity. Drawing on a feminist political economy of ageing perspective and using a life-course framework, the chapter explores the specific factors underlying gendered pension provision and the gendered impacts of recent changes to pensions as part of the Irish austerity programme. A key conclusion of the chapter is that pension reforms must be linked to other broad policy areas, such as low pay for care activities, investment in childcare and paternity benefits, to ensure the underlying gender constraints are addressed, giving women and men equal economic security in later life.

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Cross-national perspectives

Nations that are raising retirement ages appear to work on the assumption that there is appropriate employment available for people who are expected to retire later. ‘Gender, ageing and extended working life’ challenges both this narrative, and the gender-neutral way the expectation for extending working lives is presented in most policy-making circles.

The international contributors to this book - part of the Ageing in a Global Context series - apply life-course approaches to understanding evolving definitions of work and retirement. They consider the range of transitions from paid work to retirement that are potentially different for women and men in different family circumstances and occupational locations, and offer solutions governments should consider to enable them to evaluate existing policies.

Based on evidence from Australia, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, this is essential reading for researchers and students, and for policymakers who formulate and implement employment and pensions policy at national and international levels.

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This paper advances knowledge of how civil society organisations (CSOs) negotiate the shift from boom-time public expenditure to governmental austerity. The study focuses on the Republic of Ireland, where CSOs occupied an important role in providing a voice for ‘vulnerable’ citizens in corporatism for over a decade. The global financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures caused the country's model of corporatist-style ‘social partnership’ to collapse. The article connects CSOs’ adaptation to austerity measures when protecting the ‘people behind the cuts’ to broader questions about co-optation of civil society through state-led policymaking institutions.

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The conclusion briefly summarises the contributions of each of the individual country chapters; to highlight major cross-national similarities and differences; to emphasise topics where more research is needed to better understand the myriad implications of extended working lives, and to consider some policy directions that could improve prospects for extended working life by countering the increasing polarisation of later life opportunities which current policy trajectories will create. While not denying the materially better conditions in Sweden or the United States than, say, Portugal or Ireland, there is not as much variation across the countries covered as might otherwise have been expected when extended working life is considered through a gendered lens. If older women’s disadvantage is to be minimised or addressed, it is certain that the private sector alone cannot accomplish that. Only governments can redistribute resources and life chances in ways that would give future women (and vulnerable men) a fighting chance at good employment in later life and adequate income in old age.

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This chapter establishes the key arguments for this book, locating the text amidst significant knowledge gaps concerning the intersection of ageing, social policy and austerity. The chapter proposes Ireland as a unique and valuable case-study for the analysis, presenting in brief some of the conflicting and contrasting patterns arising from growing older during a time of economic recession and austerity driven social policy. The chapter presents the book’s critical gerontology approach. It describes the context of austerity in Ireland, charting the nation’s transition from unprecedented economic growth, to severe economic recession to, perhaps again, economic recovery. The chapter positions Ireland, and its economic crisis, in the global political economy and provides a critical overview of the historical evolution of ageing-related social policy in Ireland. The chapter ends by outlining the structure of the book and the contributions from each of the authors.

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