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Jul 30, 2019

In Episode 8 of the DIAL Podcast, Dr Áine Ní Léime from the National University of Ireland talks about her research looking at the work trajectories of people in sedentary and physically demanding jobs and what that means for their health as they approach retirement in a policy context where they are expected to work longer.

Áine is a member of the DIAL programme of research DAISIE project which is using similar methods and approaches to those discussed in this podcast to look at the gendered impacts of policies aimed at extending working life (EWL) in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and  the UK.


Áine Ní Léime: The road to retirement – is it an equal one for people in sedentary and physically demanding jobs?

In Episode 8 of the DIAL Podcast, Dr Áine Ní Léime from the National University of Ireland talks about her research looking at the work trajectories of people in sedentary and physically demanding jobs and what that means for their health as they approach retirement in a policy context where they are expected to work longer.

Áine is a member of the DIAL programme of research DAISIE project which is using similar methods and approaches to those discussed in this podcast to look at the gendered impacts of policies aimed at extending working life (EWL) in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and  the UK.

Christine Garrington  0:00  

Welcome to DIAL, a podcast where we tune into evidence on inequality over the life course. In today's episode, we're asking about the road to retirement, what influences people to take up a physically demanding or sedentary job, and how that plays out as we reach traditional retirement age. Our guest is Áine Ní Léime from the National University of Ireland. She starts by explaining some of the policy context around people being expected to work for longer and the potential pinch points associated with those policies. 

Áine Ní Léime  0:28  

People are living longer, populations are ageing in several European countries and the response to that, or one response to that, has been by the OECD and the EU, to introduce policies designed to extend working lives. So that’s fine and seems very benign and so on. But when you look at that a bit more closely, especially from a gender perspective, which a group of us researchers, were involved in gender based research, and it seemed to us that changing the lens of working lives was going to have some kind of impact on women in particular, because they already had inequalities in terms of pensions, they tend to have lower pensions – there are pension gaps in every country - so we're interested to see what is the impact of extending working lives on you know, a situation that's already unequal. Another issue that seemed likely, again, we didn't know the beginning of the research was followed by people who were in physically demanding jobs, if they suddenly have to work longer, what's that going to do to them? Another emerging area of research, which only kind of became obvious as the research progressed, is that people tend to be in more precarious jobs at the moment and into the future. So again, what impact is that going to have as they have to lengthen their working lives? 

Christine Garrington  1:57  

On that note, as far as Ireland is concerned, I'm quite interested to know what's the situation there with respect to state pension age and any of the policies that have been brought in there and in recent years that relate to this?

Áine Ní Léime  2:10  

Okay, yeah, because my presentation today was based in Ireland, so state pension age in Ireland was 65 until 2014 when the rules have increased to 66 for both men and women. It is going up to 67, in 2021 and 68, in 2028, which is quite a steep rise, considering that the population age 65 and over is relatively low and Ireland is quite a young country. It's in and around 13% at the moment, where, you have other countries that are up at 18 and 22%, so it seemed quite, in some ways, drastic, almost increase, certainly very steep.

Christine Garrington  2:54  

Yes like you say big changes have been taking place, and in order to look more closely at these issues, what exactly have you been doing?

Áine Ní Léime  3:02  

This project that I've been working on, was designed to look at different groups of people to compare men and women and to look at people in three different occupational types. So the first was physically demanding work, and that is obviously physically demanding work, so healthcare workers who often have to lift patients or clients as opposed to cleaners or janitors in the United States, and people involved in construction or you know, any, any job that is physically, obviously demanding. Another group were teachers, so they could be secondary school or primary school teachers and the third group then were academics whose work is not obviously physically, physically demanding in the same way as say cleaners would be. 

Christine Garrington  3:53  

One of the things you did was to create profiles of these different types of people who went into what sorts of jobs. So what sorts of people went into teaching them what sorts of people went into the more physically demanding jobs that you're talking about in the healthcare sector and what sorts of things influenced them in in those directions?

Áine Ní Léime  4:10 

It was generally people who have left school at an early age, this is in particular to Ireland anyway, and many of them had left school at age 13, 14 and 15. They often came from families who are not well off, and maybe had a large number of children, and they often were the older children in the family. So they left, they specifically said because they had 13 children and we needed the money so they never got an opportunity to finish secondary school or certainly not to go to college. Then the teachers on the other and they were really strongly encouraged by their parents to stay on at school, get an education and get a job, which was just this huge push to do that those were the main differences. 

Christine Garrington  5:01  

When you looked at the health of your participants, what sorts of things cropped up in relation to their sort of working lives once they were into their late 60s?

Áine Ní Léime  5:10 

Even earlier, for many of the care workers, they tended to have, to follow up with, say chronic conditions in their back/with relation to the backs, who had injured their knees or their feet and their hips - those were the main ones. Well, the interesting thing from our perspective was that it was work related. Many of these were caused from their work, whereas some of the teachers, a small number of teachers would have ill health, but it was not work related, it might be cancer or heart disease, something like that. 

Christine Garrington  5:49 

Yes something that wasn’t specifically related to their day-to-day job as it were. Now we tend to think of teaching as one of those professions, it's very much a job for life, whereas being a janitor or cleaner or health worker, as you said, might be slightly more precarious work. I wonder if that was born out in the interviews that you did? Did you get a feel for that?

Áine Ní Léime  6:09  

That is true, although I do think it’s beginning to change. It was very much the case. there are a few differences again, because say the healthcare workers, if they were working for the government, they might have a good contracts/stable contracts, ut if they were working for private healthcare companies, they really had no guarantees about, even their hours for the following week. And one of the things that could happen to them was that their clients might have to go to a nursing homes if their health got worse, or, or they might die, or, you know, but they would be suddenly left without an income, you know, without substantial pieces of income for the following couple of months or whatever. So that had a big effect on their ability to pay consistently into a private pension, which is what the government is now recommending that people do. The government in Ireland it has increased the minimum number of contributions you need to get a state contributory pension, so that definitely it does affect it yes.

Christine Garrington  7:17 

Interesting. And when you asked your participants about what they thought about, sort of the recent changes in policy and having to work longer for example, what sorts of things did they tell you?

Áine Ní Léime  7:28

Some of them were surprised, they didn’t even realise that this was happening, but most in all groups, most of the workers totally disagreed with the extension of working life. Well, they disagreed with it being compulsory, which is what they see it as being, and I suppose in effect it is because if the State Pension age is increased they have no income unless they go on Job Seekers’ Allowance which they think is also impossible to get a job at age 66. Most people's jobs are subject to contract law in Ireland and that ends at 65 at the moment. If State Pension Age increases this gap where people are suddenly left without an income and without a job. So yeah, most people disagreed with this raise of the State Pension Age. They felt it would be okay if it was not compulsory you know, if it was a choice, cecause some people do want to live longer.

Christine Garrington  8:22 

What would you say then are the main points to emerge from the research and what would be the implications for policy to your mind?

Áine Ní Léime  8:30 

Okay, well I suppose the most obvious one, first there is the impact on people in physically demanding jobs and that would be both men and women. The government needs to think of some way of addressing that, so perhaps it could be to have people in physically demanding jobs could retire earlier, and there is a sort of precedent for that with firefighters and you know, the army and the police, the guards or guardi we call them. They do retire early. That doesn’t extend at the moment to people in other more generally sort of physically demanding work. So I think that’s definitely something that needs to be addressed. How exactly they do it I’m not sure, but they could as somebody suggested today, limit it to a certain number of years, rather than linking to age. Thaat might be one approach, because one of the issues that people raised was that they had often started work ate age 13, 14, 15, so they'd already worked for 50 years. So it was very much this perception, ‘I don't want to die at work’, so they wanted a few years of being able to have a pension and just relax a bit.

Christine Garrington  9:50  

Yes that's quite a, quite a striking and strong message, isn't it indeed? So where does your research go from here, you mentioned earlier about the comparisons you are doing with the US, where does all of this work go?

Áine Ní Léime  10:01  

I'm involved in a new project, which is the DAISIE project funded by NORFACE and that involves researchers from five different countries, so there is the Czech Republic, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. We're looking at people in different occupations. One is transport, finance and health, but it is nurses this time. It's an advancement of this research, because it's not only workers that we are interviewing, but also people we call experts, but they’re trade unionists, employers and we’re trying to get this rounded picture of what, you know, everything that affects people when they try to extend their working lives. And also just to get the employers’ perspectives, because we didn’t have that. That was kind of a gap that I noticed, you know, would be nice to know what the employers thought, what kind of measures they had or didn’t have. So that's what we're working on at the moment and that's pretty exciting because we're going to interview 120 people in each country and looking at their entire work life trajectories. I think this is a really important topic because it's, you know, it's going, it's not going to go away, it's becoming more and more important, and I think this case study approach will be very interesting to see what comes out of that. 

Christine Garrington  11:18  

Differentiated outcomes at retirement for workers in physically demanding and sedentary work in Ireland, a life course approach, is research presented at the DIAL midterm conference in June 2019. Áine Ní is part of DIAL’s DAISIE project, which is funded by NORFACE. You can find out more about the DIAL projects at Thanks for literning to this episode of our  dot dynamics Thanks for listening to this episode of our podcast which is presented and produced by Chris Carrington and edited by Elina Kilpi-Jakonen.