Disability and work
: Investigating the over 50 population in Northern Ireland and England

  • Anne Devlin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis is motivated by the ongoing policy issues arising from the rapidly ageing populations found in many developed countries, including the UK. As such ‘active ageing’ continues to be a policy aim of many developed countries and while the term ‘active ageing’ is somewhat ambiguous it is generally accepted that encouraging participation in the labour force of older adults is important. As such this thesis answers three research questions relevant to the over 50 population on work, disability and retirement. 
Firstly, in chapter 2 disability rates in NI are examined as the disability rate in NI is much higher than other regions in the UK. Economic inactivity as a whole and economic inactivity on the grounds of sickness/disability are also much higher in NI and are often an important part of the NI Executives Programme for Government. Disability rates using various measures in England and NI are compared to find what may drive these higher rates in NI and to determine whether or not NI is a special case or if the high levels of disability are explained by the determinants of disability as guided by the literature. Following on from this in the third chapter I examine more fully the receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in NI as it is particularly high. Given DLA receipt in NI appears to be a special case within the UK I look at how having been impacted by the 30 years of conflict in NI, The Troubles, may be driving these high rates of DLA receipt. Research on disability rates in NI is minimal despite the extremely high rates of both self-reported disability and disability benefit receipt. Furthermore, disability is an important area of policy as the UK attempts to reduce benefit rolls and encourage labour force participation of people with disabilities.

The fourth chapter looks at a different form of economic inactivity by examining retirement pathways amongst the over 50 population in England. Rich data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) which covers the period from 2002-2015 is used. This allows for the examination of pathways over a 14 year period rather than a single retirement transition which is more common in the literature but which may disguise key changes to labour force status. The literature in the area points to retirement being an evolving concept and single retirement transitions are no longer deemed the only way to retire. The length of data also allows us to examine whether retirement pathways have changed following the Great Recession which is a significant contribution to the retirement literature.

As a whole, this thesis uses longitudinal data in NI and England to answer three policy relevant research questions involving older adults. Given the trends of ageing in most developed countries this section of the population will continue to be central to policy making for the foreseeable. And perhaps even more so, given the budget ramifications which the government will face as a result of significant spending due to covid-19.

Thesis embargoed until 31 December 2024.
Date of AwardDec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsMedical Research Council
SupervisorDeclan French (Supervisor) & Duncan McVicar (Supervisor)


  • Disability
  • economic inactivity
  • Northern Ireland
  • ageing
  • work disability
  • Benefit receipt
  • conflict
  • Troubles
  • retirement

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