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The changing fortunes of UK retired households, 1977–2017

Chris Gilleard (Department of Psychiatry, University College London, London, UK)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 25 June 2020

Issue publication date: 26 May 2021




This study aims to explore whether trends in the pattern of income inequality over the past 40 years apply equally to working and retirement age households in the UK, and if so, why this might be so.


Drawing on data from the Office of National Statistics, various indices of income inequality have been calculated among retired and working-age households for the period 1977–2017.


Despite a broadly similar trend towards increasing inequality during the 1980s and into the 1990s among both types of household, income inequality among UK retired households has always remained below than that of working-age households. For retired and working-age households alike, the fortunes of those in the upper half of the income distribution have seen themselves do better. Despite the temporal contiguity, different explanations for both sets of inequalities seem to be required, and likely different strategies needed to ameliorate their more negative effects.


Few studies have conducted comparisons of inequality between retirement and working-age households over four decades in any country. The present study's long view suggests that factors creating inequality in the upper half of the income distribution may differ in both their cause and impact, compared with inequalities in the lower half. Arguably, the greatest need is to improve access to benefits for those retired householders at the bottom of the income distribution.



The author is extremely grateful to staff at the Office of National Statistics for both supplying him with the income data and so helpfully answering his various queries.


Gilleard, C. (2021), "The changing fortunes of UK retired households, 1977–2017", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 41 No. 5/6, pp. 597-610.



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