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Flexible hours an important factor for older working women, professor finds

January 22, 2002

Flexible hours an important factor for older working women, professor finds



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


MONT ALTO, Pa. - A Penn State Mont Alto economics teacher who is researching older working women said those who are still in the work force value flexible hours more than money.

Elizabeth Hill, assistant professor of economics, said she came up with some surprises in her two-year study of working women.

She found that while many older women classify themselves as being retired they continue to work.

"The trend in recent years is that the percentage of women working after the age of 55 has gone up, while the percentage of men who are working after that age has gone down," Hill said.

She believes that many older women work because they need the money. "I had expected that they worked because the wanted to," she said.

Studies show that women are 70 percent more likely to spend retirement in poverty than men.

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"There is evidence that women with more education and work experience work more when they are older even though they have higher family incomes, pension plans and savings," she said. "They also have more control over their hours than women with less education."

Hill based her research on a 30-year nationwide study of 5,083 women ages 30 to 44 picked at random in 1967 by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some worked, some didn't.

Federal researchers kept track of the women through the decades by interviews. By 1997 the number of women who had not died, left the labor force or simply disappeared from the researchers' data base was down to 2,608. Hill based her research on those women remaining in 1997.

"By that time they were 60 to 74 years old," she said.

The University of Ohio collected and organized the research for the government.

Hill learned that women who worked at a younger age tend to continue to work when they get older. "Those who stayed at home 30 years ago are less apt to be working now," she said.

Her research showed that women work fewer years over their lifetimes than men because they take time off for family and other obligations.

Hill said if employers want to keep older women on the job today they need to offer flexible hours.

"If a woman has no say in the hours she works then the job controls her," Hill said. Education plays a role here too, she said. "Women with less education often have little say in the hours they work," she said.

The number of weeks worked in a year is also a factor in controlling the job for older women, Hill said. "Flexible hours are more important to them than money," she said.

Hill's findings will be in a report she expects to have published in a professional publication.

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