A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


In mid-1945, the year in which this inquiry was carried out, conditions of employment were exceptional. If the data obtained then is to be of value now and in the future, therefore, it is essential that an attempt should be made not only to describe the situation as it existed in 1945 but also to discuss how it might be modified by time. To do this it is necessary to consider (a) whether the proportion of old people remaining in employment in the future will differ from the proportion in employment in 1945, (b) whether the type of work old persons do will alter in the future, and (c), whether, in respect of methods of payment, hours of work and travelling time, old persons differ from the rest of the population.


(a) The proportion of persons aged 60 and over who were employed in 1945 .

Satisfactory figures showing the number and proportion of persons in employment beyond the age of 60 have not been available since 1931. Accordingly the initial purpose of the inquiry was to discover the proportion of old persons who were employed for either profit or gain in mid-1945. Altogether, 53% of men and 9% of women aged 60 and over were in employment in 1945, a total of 28% of all persons aged 60 and over. If insurable persons, that is, men aged 60-64, are excluded from these calculations, 39% of men were in employment the percentage of women remains unaltered, and in all, 20% of persons beyond insurable age were in employment. (1) +

On the basis of the Registrar-General’s estimates of the number of men and women in each age-group in the civilian population in 1945 these figures indicate that approximately 1,075,000 persons beyond insurable age were in employment in mid-1945. If men aged 60-64 are included the total number in employment rises to 1,815,000. (2).

Since it might be expected that the opportunities for employment of older people would be greatly increased by the industrial conditions prevailing in wartime it is of interest to compare the figures given above with the figures given in the Census of 1931. (3). It should be noted, however, that in this Census ‘occupied’ includes persons seeking employment.

In 1931 the number of persons aged 60 and over was 4,619,000 compared with 6,456,000 in 1945. The proportion of old persons in employment or seeking employment in 1931 was 63% in the case of men, 11% among women, and 34% in all. In 1945, therefore, there was an absolute increase in the numbers of old persons in employment. The proportion in employment in that year was lower however. As 12% of men were seeking employment in 1931, and the number was negligible in 1945, it seems that, although there was an increase of 2% in the proportion of old persons actually employed in 1945 compared with 1931, the proportion available for work in 1945 had decreased considerably. In the case of women, 10% were actually occupied in 1931 compared with 9% in 1945. It is apparent, therefore, that war conditions had not brought about an increase in the number of persons over 60 who were available for work, although they may have delayed temporarily an even greater decline since 1931 in the proportion of old persons in employment.

The association between the proportion of old persons in employment and such factors as civil status, residence in urban or rural districts, region of residence, and economic group was explored. The principal factors were region and economic group.

Analyses of the proportions of older persons in employment were made by the eleven Civil Defence regions of England and Wales. The proportion of men employed at the age of 60 and over displayed greater variation between the different regions than the corresponding proportions for men under 60. The employment of men over 60 was higher than the average of 53% in the agricultural regions, Eastern and South-western, and lower than average in Wales and the South-eastern region. In Wales only 5% of the women were in employment, compared with an average of 9%. (7)

The proportion of men in employment aged 60 and over varied in close agreement with the proportion of women in employment between the ages of 15-59. The coefficient of correlation between them is .85 if the exceptional Eastern Region is excluded. (The Eastern region is an agricultural region and in agricultural areas a low proportion of women under 60 and a high proportion of men over 60 are in employment).

Since a high employment rate among women implies, in most regions, a diversified industrial structure and the presence of light industries it may be that the opportunities for employment of men aged 60 and over are advanced by such a structure just as are those of women.

There are clear associations between employment and economic group. + A lower proportion of men and women are in employment in the lowest economic group, up to £3 weekly, than in any other. 17% of the men in this group are in employment compared with 66-70% in the remaining groups, while 6% of the women in this group are in employment compared with 10-14% in the remaining groups. (8) In comparing the economic groups it should be noted the lowest economic group differs from the rest in its internal composition. 10 The proportion of women is higher, 58% compared with 52-53% in the remaining groups: the average age is higher, 55% being over 70 compared with 35-41% in the remaining groups; and the proportion of old persons living alone or with other old people only is higher, being 59% compared with 22-31% in the remaining groups. +

These figures suggest that both men and women over 60 years of age remain part of a household more frequently when they are in employment than when they are not, and that as increasing age brings about increasing unemployment so it brings increasing loneliness. It has been suggested that the means test applied to unemployed men and women breaks up their family life and it should be remembered that the Supplementary Pension payable to Pensioners in 1945 was subject to an assessment of means which included the incomes of other members of the family.

There are considerable economic differences between men and women. Among men, at least, the economic incentives to continue work must be strong, since 9% of those working are in the lowest economic group compared with 49% of those not working. Among women, 24% of those working are in the lowest economic group, compared with 40% of those not working. The smaller difference between the two groups of women is due to the lower wages paid to women and in general a higher proportion of women than of men are in the lowest economic group. (9).

A comparison of the economic groupings of households with old people in them and households without old people in them suggests that households with old people in them are more frequently to be found in the lowest economic group and less frequently in the middle economic groups.

In view of the indications given above of the economic pressure to work which many old persons experience, it is surprising that the demand for labour during the war years did not bring a higher proportion of old persons into employment. It is possible however that the industrial mobility of old persons is low and that once retired they find it difficult to return to work, particularly work of a kind to which they are not accustomed or which is not adapted to their needs. This would appear to become increasingly true with advancing age. Furthermore, it is shown later in this report. ++ that the old people who are not working have a wider range of sources of income than those who are working. It is possible therefore that there is an economic stage at which the necessity to work becomes just sufficiently reduced for old persons at that stage to survive without employment. In any case, however, it is apparent from a comparison of the 1931 - 1945 figures that the proportion of old persons in employment in mid-1945 is as high as any proportion that can be expected in the future, and possibly higher.

[1] Numbers in brackets refer to the number of the relevant tables, to be found in Part 4, ( s).

[2] Economic Group: This is based on the weekly wage rate, or its equivalent of the chief wage earner in the household, or his/her equivalent. There are five groups (1) Up to £3 weekly, (2) Over £3 to £4 weekly, (3) Over £4 to £5.10.0. weekly, (4) Over £5.10.0. to £10 weekly, (5) Over £10 weekly.

[3] See page 18, para 4.

[4] Section 3.


(b) Occupations and Industries followed by persons aged 60 and over.

The proportion of old persons in employment having been established, the next step is to discover what occupations they follow and in what industries they are engaged; whether the range of such occupations and industries or the frequency with which they are followed by old persons differ from those of the rest of the population; and the extent to which war-time conditions have influenced such employments. This can only be done in outline since the sample is not large enough to permit of detailed analyses, but it is hoped that the section will give a general outline of the position and suggest the lines which further studies may pursue. The occupations and industries have been classified in broad groups. No attempt has been made to group the occupations according to the strain of the work involved, however. This would require a detailed analysis of the work done by each old person, an analysis which was not attempted in this survey. +++

The majority of men aged 60 and over were either labourers, (21%) non-manufacturing operatives, (32%), or self-employed, (16%). The remaining groups, unskilled operatives, skilled operatives, clerical workers, managerial and supervisory workers, professional and technical, each numbered between 5 and 7 per cent of the total. The majority of women were either non-manufacturing operatives, (50%), or self-employed, (26%). 5% were clerical workers, 7% professional and technical, and the remaining groups numbered between 1 and 3 per cent of the total. (10).

In old age as in youth, therefore, women are to be found principally in personal services and distribution, and it may be that they become self-employed in these pursuits also. The position of men aged 60 and over is difficult to determine in relation to that of the rest of the male population, since the proportion of labourers in the normal working population is unknown. It would appear, however, that a higher proportion than might be expected are in the managerial, professional and technical and self-employed groups, and a comparison between the data derived from this inquiry and that derived from a sample of the whole civilian population in June 1945 shows for all old persons at least, this is the case. 30% of the persons over 60 are in the managerial and succeeding groups, compared with 11% of the general population. On the other hand, 62% of persons over 60 were in the operative and labouring groups, compared with 74 of the civilian population, (11).

It is clear from this comparison that older persons remain in employment in the professional, technical, managerial, and self-employed groups to a much greater extent than in the operative and clerical groups.

This general conclusion is borne out, though modified somewhat, by an analysis of the proportions of men and women in each group of occupations at different ages. (10). It is clear from this analysis that the decline with increasing age in the numbers of older persons in the operative and labouring groups is due to a decline in the proportions of unskilled and non-manufacturing operatives. The proportions of skilled workers and labourers remain steady. Similarly, the increase with age in the proportion of older persons in the professional and managerial and clerical group is due to a steady increase in the proportion of self-employed.

An analysis by broad regions showed that the occupations of old persons were distributed through the country in accordance with what is known about the location of industry generally, that is to say, skilled operatives were to be found most frequently in the North and Midlands, and clerical and professional workers most frequently in London. (12).

Analysis of the industries, + as distinct from the occupations, in which old persons were engaged, shows that the suggestion made earlier that the distributive trades and personal services are responsible for the bulk of the employment of women is amply confirmed. 68% of the women over 60 were in Personal Services and Distribution, 11% in Commerce and the Professions, 8% in Textiles and Clothing, and 4% in Metal Manufacture and Engineering. Men were distributed in fair numbers through all industries, with the biggest concentrations in Metal Manufacturing and Engineering, 20%, and in Distribution and Personal Services, 17%, and in Agriculture, Mining and Quarrying, 14%. The high proportion in the latter group was due principally to agricultural workers. (13).

Comparisons between the sample distribution and Ministry of Labour figures are difficult to make because of the presence in the sample of self-employed persons who are not covered by the Ministry of Labour. A comparison can be made, however, between broad groupings of the sample and similar groupings derived from figures issued by the Central Statistical Office for mid-1945.

The comparison suggests that fewer old people then might be expected on the basis of the current employment figures were in the Manufacturing Industries, 30% compared with 45%, and more than might be expected were in Distribution, Commerce, & the Professions, 46% compared with 31%. (14). It is known, however, that young persons had moved into manufacturing industries out of other industries and service during the war. It may be suggested, therefore, that the distribution of old persons was fairly normal, and the distribution of the whole civilian population abnormal. In other words, the kind of work done by old persons may not have been greatly affected by the war, although their relative importance in different industries has changed considerably. +

The relationship between age and the industries in which old persons were employed can only be shown satisfactorily for men. The decrease with increasing age in the number of men in employment was associated with a decline in the proportion of men employed in Metal Manufacturing and Engineering; Food, Drink and Tobacco; Building and Contracting; and Transport and Communications. Increasing age seems to have had little effect on Miscellaneous Industries; Woodwork, Bricks, Pottery, Glass, etc; and Water, Gas and Electricity; while its effects on the proportions engaged in Textiles and Clothing; Commerce and the Professions; Paper and Printing, is uncertain. The proportion of men engaged in Agriculture, Mining and Quarrying, increased with age, as did the proportion in the Distributive and Personal services. (13).

The increase in the proportion of men in the Distributive and Personal services can be accounted for partly by the high proportion of self-employed in these industries, and the increase in agriculture by a higher proportion of men remaining in employment in that industry, as well as a fair proportion of self-employed.

A larger sample might have cleared up some of the uncertainties surrounding several of the industries. It is possible that some of the fluctuations may have been caused by older persons re-entering their former industries, but a later section suggests that this movement was not great.

The sharp decline with increasing age in the proportion of old persons engaged in the transport and communication industries might be connected with the physical needs of the industries and a strict retirement age.

The effects of age upon occupation are made fairly clear by the preceding paragraphs. Old persons are to be found more frequently in the non-manual occupations and the non-manufacturing industries than the rest of the population, and this difference increases with age. It might be concluded that this difference is due in part to the greater industrial mobility during the war of the younger than of the older people, but it does suggest that the economic consequences of ceasing work may not fall so heavily on the lower paid manual workers as on others. If that is so, not only are they more likely to leave work, but any future increase in pensions will mean that they will do so even more readily, with a consequent loss of labour to the industries concerned.

[5] See Appendix for list of classifications.

[6] Based on the smaller sample described in the section on the sampling methods used.

[7] See Part 2, Section 2.

13 14

(c) Methods of payment, hours of work, and travelling time .

It has already been pointed out that a study of the physical requirements of the occupations followed by older persons was not one of the objects of this survey, but certain broad indications of the hours worked, and travelled by the old persons and the methods by which they were paid, were required to give some indication of the extent to which old persons conformed to normal standards in these respects. All these details were easily obtainable from the old persons themselves. It was hoped that detailed comparisons could be made between old people and the normal working population, as far as travelling time and hours away from work are concerned, but the data relating to the normal working population did not become available as expected, accordingly comparisons have had to be limited in number.

There is no evidence available to determine whether or not the methods by which old persons were paid differed proportionately from the methods by which the whole working population was paid. The affects of age on methods of payment can only be examined, therefore, on the basis of such age differences as exist within the sample. These are so slight as to suggest that at ages over 60, methods of payment are not affected by advancing years. This is no indication, however, that there is not a decline in the proportion receiving piece-rates, for instance, at ages earlier than 60. In all 84% of old persons were paid time-rates, 6% piece-rates, 3% on a bonus system, and 3% by other methods. (15).

The hours worked weekly by old people are only a partial indication of their capacity to work, since the intensity with which they work may be reduced to enable them to carry on in employment. Any marked difference between the hours worked by old people and normal working hours, would therefore, indicate that the effects of age are greater than has been suspected. The mean number of hours worked by old people in full employment was 48, however, and by persons in part-time employment, 23 hours weekly. + Increasing age had no perceptible effect on these averages. Thus older persons in full employment did not work much less than normal hours on the average.

Travelling time was considered because the journey to work might be a strong factor in limiting the range of employment of persons aged 60 and over. It might be if it were long, more exhausting to them, and a cause of greater anxiety, than any other single factor in their employment. All old persons, were therefore, asked how long it took then to get to work. More than half the women and a fifth of the men over 60 had no journey to work. This reflects the proportions in each group who reside on their own business premises as well as the proportions who live close enough to their work for travelling to be inconsiderable.

Of those who travelled to work, 57% took 20 minutes or less, 25% took 21-40 minutes, and 8% took over 40 minutes. 7% said the length of time their journey took varied from day to day. (17).

In 1943 a sample of workers in employment below managerial grades in Urban districts was obtained for an inquiry into transport problems. ++ A comparison between the travelling times recorded for this sample and travelling times recorded for old people shows that despite the high proportion of old people who said that their travelling time varied, on the average older persons spent less tine travelling to work than the population sampled in 1943. The difference is most noticeable in the groups which spend over 40 minutes travelling to work. 8% of old persons fell in that category compared with 20% of the 1943 sample. This may be an adjustment brought about by age, that is by old people being less willing to accept jobs involving travelling long distances. But on the other hand it might be due to older persons having over time secured a residence closer to their place of work than was common among those sampled in 1943. It is shown in a later section that old people tend to live in old houses, and there is frequently an association between old housing and industrial areas. In this connection it may be noted that less than 8% of old persons who had to travel to work thought their home inconvenient to their place of work. (18).

The total number of hours old persons spend away from home daily, including working time and travelling time, was also calculated. The median number of hours that old persons in full employment spend away from home daily was 10 hours, and by those in part-time employment, 4½ hours. Increasing age had little effect on these figures. (21).

Labourers and operatives had a longer working day than the clerical, managerial, professional and self-employed groups, but this of course, is a characteristic of industry. (21).

It would appear that in general old people are largely paid time-rates, work normal hours, and only so far as travelling time is concerned, differ markedly from the rest of the population.

[8] See the Ministry of labour Gazette, Feb. 1946. Average working hours of men 21 and over were 49.7 and of women 18 and over 43.3.

[9] Derived from “Getting to Work”, and inquiry carried out by the Social Survey in 1943.

(d) Attitudes toward employment .

Some conclusions about the extent to which old persons will remain in employment have already been drawn from the objective data presented in earlier sections. + When this inquiry was planned, however, it was considered that a record of old persons’ attitudes toward employment would enable a little to be said about motivation as well as circumstances. It was thought, for instance, that many old persons might wish to go on working because they preferred to do so, and might miss the distractions of an occupation and the company of fellow workers.

Old persons in employment were asked directly whether they were working because they had to do so for economic reasons, or because they preferred work to retirement. Only one old person in five worked solely because he or she preferred to do so. An additional one in four said that they had to work but in any case preferred to do so. Thus one in two did not want to work but had no alternative. There were no significant differences between men and women in this respect. Increasing age modified these figures, however. Men aged 70 and over more frequently preferred to work than men under that age. Even so, those over 70 who have no compulsion to go on working, number less than a third of all over 70. (22).

All old persons were asked their reasons for answering as they did. Among those who had to work the majority stressed financial reasons, as might be expected, and the fact that their house and home depended on their job. Among those who preferred to work, 4% mentioned the labour shortage and the war. 8% of all old persons in employment said they were working because they liked their jobs. 30% of the men and 24% of the women, that is, 29% of all old persons, said they had nothing to do at home and would be bored and lonely if they had to stay there. As the old people grew older the wish to have something to do, something to occupy the mind, was expressed more frequently. 40% of those over 70 mentioned these reasons compared with 30% of those aged 60-64. It would appear, therefore, that the hypothesis that old people enjoyed the company of their follow workers is a reasonable one, since a considerable proportion refer to it.

It was thought that old persons would give a further indication of their attitudes toward employment by their answers to questions on how long they intended to go on working. Altogether, 66% of old persons said they intended to go on working as long as they could. Only 16% of all old persons expressed a definite intention to retire and they were to be found principally among those aged 60-69. It would appear that the majority of those who wished to retire had done so before reaching 70 years of age. (24).

Small proportions of the sample gave health, 4%, need of a rest, 8%, and the fact that they would get a pension soon, as reasons for giving up work. All those who proposed to carry on working as long as possible repeated the reasons they had given in answer to the earlier question on their reasons for continuing to work, that is, financial necessity, liking for the job, and that they thought it better to go on working.

Analysis of the length of time old persons wished to go on working by their reasons for working modified the rather black and white picture presented in an earlier paragraph, which suggests that 20% of old people prefer to work and therefore will continue to do so as long as possible. In fact a small percentage say they will retire as soon as possible or when qualified for a pension or when the labour shortage is less acute. It would appear finally that only 12% of all old persons in employment in mid-1945 not only prefer to work but intend to do so as long as possible. The majority of old people work because they have to do so. (25).

[10] See Page 3, para. 1.

(e) Summary

A comparison with the Census of England and Wales, 1931, reveals that, contrary to what might have been expected in view of the wartime demand for labour a lower proportion of old persons were in employment in 1945 than in 1931. This implies either low industrial mobility among old persons or failure to make alternative industries attractive to them, since there is evidence that many old people experience strong economic pressure to work, and indicates that even fewer old persons may remain in employment in the future.

The correlation between the employment of men over 60 and women under 60 suggests that where there is work for women there is work for older men.

An association between loneliness and lack of occupation may mean that as old persons dropped out of employment they also separated themselves from their family unit in order to obtain a supplement to their old age pensions.

Abnormal administrative measures were used during the war years to direct young and middle aged people into the war industries, but older persons were not affected by them. It is possible that those who remained in employment in 1945 were in similar industries and occupations, in roughly the same numbers, as old persons in employment before the war.

The hours old persons worked weekly are fairly normal hours, but a high proportion travelled shorter distances than the normal working population. Similarly, a high proportion were self-employed and could adjust their hours to suit themselves, while a considerable proportion of the self-employed lived on their own premises.

A minimum of four out of five old persons work because they have to do so, and only one in three refer to such compensations as companionship and the interest of their work.

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