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Working Women: What Happens as They Age?

JupiterImages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As women get older, many want to – or have to – continue to work, just as many men do.  Still, a new report from the advocacy group OWL indicates that middle-aged and older women may have a tougher time working as they age compared to men.

“What surprised me was the number of older workers, women, over 50, over 60, over 70 who considered themselves unemployed and looking for work,” said Margaret Huyck, president of the Older Women’s League National Board.

The report found that for women between the ages of 55 to 61 who do have a job, nearly 21 percent of them are underemployed, compared with only 7 percent of underemployed men the same age. “We just have a long history of discounting older women as productive workers,” according to Huyck.

OWL, which calls itself “The Voice of Midlife and Older Women,” in its report found that the pay gap for women grows wider as a woman age.  For workers between the ages of 16 to 19, women earn 95 percent of what men do; between between the ages of 35 and 44, that drops to 80 percent and by age 65, women are making 76 percent as much as men the same age.

Part of the reason for this pay gap is that women are more likely than men to leave the workforce for a time. The report finds “most caregivers are female and middle-aged and drop out of the workforce for an average of 12 years to care for young children or aging parents.”

Working fewer years, and earning less money, can make it difficult for women when they retire.  According to the report, almost twice as many retired women (12 percent) live in poverty as retired men (6.6 percent), and that without Social Security benefits half of women aged 65 and older would live below the poverty line.

The report makes dozens of recommendations, including tougher anti-discrimination laws to discourage age and gender discrimination, incentives for companies to hire older workers and support for women entrepreneurs.  They also suggest changes that could help all workers, such as more flexible work schedules.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio