Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine the gendered processes of ageing at work in Switzerland, a country already characterised by particularly high employment rates for seniors of both sexes, and where the notion of “active ageing” has recently appeared on the policy agenda. The study illustrates the mechanisms through which men and women accumulate dis-/advantage across the life course, and the influence that critical events in different life domains have on the conditions under
which they prepare the transition to retirement.
Design/methodology/approach – The data used in the paper were collected with a mixed methods approach, including secondary statistical data analysis, expert interviews (with human resource and line managers), company case studies and 63-biographical interviews with male and female seniors employed in three different sectors (food distribution, health, transport) of the Swiss labour market.The interview guide covered issues relating directly to the employment histories and working conditions of the over 50s, but also enabled respondents to reflect on the influence of past or recent events in their private lives on their experiences of ageing at work (and vice versa).
Findings – The study shows that, in the Swiss context, ageing at work is a social experience, that is profoundly marked by societal-level normative “gender scripts” and by the gendered nature of major life-course transitions. However, rather than producing a clear distinction between the experiences of men on the one hand and women on the other, studying the accumulation of dis-/advantages (Dannefer, 2009) enables us to elaborate a more nuanced typology, mapping the Swiss experience of ageing at work according to four alternative ideal-type models: confident, resentful, determined and distressed.
Social implications – In a context characterised by prolonged life expectancy and restricted welfare budgets, a clearer understanding of the conditions under which men and women make decisions about the continuation, interruption or adaptation of their professional activities (and care commitments) in the second half of their adult lives has clear implications, both for patterns of “active ageing” and for gender equality.
Originality/value – The paper sheds new light on the gendered variations in the experience of ageing at work in the Swiss context; it examines the implications of the dis-/advantages accumulated by different categories of men and women during various transitions in the employment and family spheres on their autonomy, well-being and satisfaction during this critical period of their adult lives.