Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research

Making sense of the social world


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Professor Sarah A. Vickerstaff

Professor of Work and Employment and Head of School

School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research

CNE 05
School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Cornwallis North East
Canterbury , Kent, CT2 7NF


I am a Professor of Work and Employment and Head of School, at the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research.

My main research interests are in the changes to the relationship between paid work and the life course, in particular at the beginning and end of working life.


I joined the University of Kent in 1984 from the City of London Polytechnic. During my career I’ve been a Lecturer in Industrial Relations, Human Resources Management and a Reader in Employment Policy and Practice. I was promoted to Professor of Work and Employment in 2004.


I completed my PhD in Sociology, passed without revision, at the University of Leeds and my BSc in Sociology with First Class (Honours) at the University of Leicester.

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Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository

    Vickerstaff, Sarah and Baldock, John C. and Cox, Jennifer et al. (2004) Happy Retirement? The Impact of Employers' Policies and Practice on the Process of Retirement. Policy Press, Bristol, UK ISBN 9781861345844.

    Thirkell, John E. M. and Petkov, Krastyu and Vickerstaff, Sarah (1998) The Transformation of Labour Relations: Restructuring and Privatisation in Eastern Europe and Russia. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 206 pp. ISBN 0198289790.


    The substantial political changes in Eastern Europe and Russia since 1989 have been accompanied by the attempted transfer, imposition, and imitation of labour relations practices and mechanisms from other market economies, primarily of Western Europe. This book addresses the extent to which these transferred labour-relations institutions are likely to take root. The authors offer a comparative analysis of changing labour relations at national level in a range of countries, and the role of governments, international institutions, trade unions, and other agencies. This is supported by in-depth case studies on the processes of transformation at enterprise level. Drawing on the findings of an international research team, analysis of the change process and recent developments is related to the legacies of the socialist system.


    Loretto, Wendy and Vickerstaff, Sarah (2013) The domestic and gendered context for retirement. Human Relations, 66 (1). pp. 65-86. ISSN 00187267.


    Against a global backdrop of population and workforce ageing, successive UK governments have encouraged people to work longer and delay retirement. Debates focus mainly on factors affecting individuals’ decisions on when and how to retire. We argue that a fuller understanding of retirement can be achieved by recognizing the ways in which individuals’ expectations and behaviours reflect a complicated, dynamic set of interactions between domestic environments and gender roles, often established over a long time period, and more temporally proximate factors. Using a qualitative data set, we explore how the timing, nature and meaning of retirement and retirement planning are played out in specific domestic contexts. We conclude that future research and policies surrounding retirement need to: focus on the household, not the individual; consider retirement as an often messy and disrupted process and not a discrete event; and understand that retirement may mean very different things for women and for men.

    Lain, David and Vickerstaff, Sarah and Loretto, Wendy (2013) Reforming State Pension Provision in ‘Liberal’ Anglo-Saxon Countries: Re-Commodification, Cost-Containment or Recalibration? Social Policy and Society, 12 (1). pp. 77-90. ISSN 1474-7464.


    There are good theoretical reasons for expecting pension reform in Anglo-Saxon countries to follow similar paths. Esping-Andersen (1990) famously identified these countries as belonging to the same ‘Liberal’ model of welfare, under which benefits, including pensions, are said to be residual and weakly ‘de-commodifying’, reducing individuals’ reliance on the market to a much lesser degree than elsewhere. Pierson (2001) has furthermore argued that because of path dependency welfare states are likely to follow established paths when dealing with ‘permanent austerity’. Following this logic, Aysan and Beaujot (2009) argue that pension reform in liberal countries has resulted in increasing re-commodification. In this paper, we review pension reforms in the UK, USA, Canada and New Zealand in the 2000s. We argue that because, in reality, the pension systems differed significantly at the point of reform, the paths followed varied considerably in terms of whether they focused on ‘re-commodification’, ‘cost-containment’ or ‘recalibration’.

    Brown, Patrick R and Vickerstaff, Sarah (2011) Health Subjectivities and Labor Market Participation: Pessimism and Older Workers’ Attitudes and Narratives Around Retirement. Research on Aging, 33 (5). pp. 529-550. ISSN 0164-0275.


    Decisions around retirement and continued labor market participation are of great significance for those who make them, as well as policy makers, researchers, welfare states, and pension programs. The literature acknowledges the multifaceted nature of these choices and particularly the interaction of key variables—job satisfaction, financial status, caring responsibilities, spouse’s plans, and health. This article explores this latter factor, challenging assumptions that it can be treated as an unproblematic independent variable. Analyzing qualitative data from interviews with 96 people approaching or in the midst of retirement, the subjective experience of health and its effect on decisions was strongly evident. The socialized context—as shaped at societal, organizational, household, and individual-life-historical levels—was crucial in understanding how similar symptoms of morbidity resulted in widely varying decisions/outcomes. Direct interpersonal experiences, shaped by social structures, were useful in explaining the prevalence of health pessimism, despite general increases in life expectancy.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (2010) Older Workers: The ‘unavoidable obligation’ of extending our working lives? Sociology Compass, 4 (10). pp. 869-879. ISSN 1751-9020.


    Older workers are becoming an increasing topic of research interest and policy concern as the populations of Europe, the United States and many other countries age. Some commentators argue that living longer means that there will be an ‘unavoidable obligation’ to work for longer as well. This article considers the reasons for concern about an ageing workforce. It then looks at the different literatures, which seek to research and understand the position of older workers. It provides a snapshot of the work that those over 50 years of age in the UK currently do and poses the question of whether we want to work for longer or whether a culture of early retirement prevails. It concludes by arguing for a more fine grained understanding of the composition of the older worker cohort, differentiated by class, gender and race and for more research on flexible work, gradual retirement and managing health at work.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (2007) I was just the boy around the place: what made apprenticeships successful? Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 59 (3). pp. 331-347. ISSN 1363-6820.


    This article seeks to add to current policy and debate on apprenticeships and youth transitions more widely by reflecting back upon the historical experience of the apprenticeship model. The research comprises in?depth interviews with 30 people who undertook apprenticeships in a range of trades in Great Britain in the period 1944–1982. The discussion focuses upon the socialisation aspects of apprenticeship and concludes that a key feature of good apprenticeships in the post? war period was that they offered a sheltered and extended period in which the young person was able to grow up and become job?ready. Reconstructing the social, industrial, familial and community conditions that made this possible is very difficult in the contemporary period, although further work in oral history has considerable potential.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (2007) What do older workers want? Gradual retirement? Social & Public Policy Review, 1 (1). ISSN 1752-704X.


    In the context of government concern to raise the participation rates of those over 50 years of age this paper considers whether gradual retirement is a desirable and feasible option for older workers. It provides a review of current patterns of flexible employment in the age group 50+ and considers the views and opinions of older workers in three case study organisations. The paper finishes by considering whether, and in what ways, age discrimination legislation which became law in the autumn of 2006 will facilitate or hinder older workers aspirations. It concludes that the effects of the law are likely to be weak.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (2006) 'I'd rather keep running to the end and then jump off the cliff.' Retirement decisions: who decides? Journal of Social Policy, 35 (3). pp. 455-472. ISSN 0047-2794.


    Government in the UK, as elsewhere in Europe, is keen to encourage individuals to delay their retirement, work for longer and save more for their retirement. This article argues that much of this public discussion is based on the debatable premise that most people are actively choosing to leave work ‘early’. Research on retirement decisions hitherto has concentrated on individual factors, which dispose towards early retirement and has neglected the role of the employer in determining retirement timing. New research reported here, undertaken in three organisational case studies, explores the management of retirement and how individual employees experience these processes. It employs the concepts of the ‘retirement zone’ and retirement scenarios to demonstrate how the interaction of individual attributes (themselves subject to change) and organisational practices (also unpredictable and variable) produces retirement outcomes. It concludes that there is considerable management discretion over the manner and timing of individual retirements. Hence, government needs to recognise that the majority of individuals may have relatively little personal discretion over their departure from work and hence concentration on urging them to work for longer and delay retiring may be missing the real target for policy change.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (2006) Entering the retirement zone: How much choice do individuals have. Social Policy and Society, 5 (4). pp. 507-519. ISSN 1474-7464.


    Traditionally the factors affecting retirement are correlated with individual difference variables such as level of income, health issues and caring responsibilities. Studies have shown how these factors interact to predict the individual retirement process. However, the demand-side factors which structure opportunities for older workers have been somewhat less studied. This paper explores the employer role in retirement. By investigating the experience of employees and retirees from three organisations this article demonstrates that the employing organisation’s policies and practices are key to understanding retirement transitions. In the conclusion the impact of forthcoming age discrimination legislation is considered.

    Loretto, Wendy and Vickerstaff, Sarah and White, Phil (2006) Introduction to Themed Section : What do Older Workers Want? Social Policy and Society, 5 (4). pp. 479-483.


    Across the industrialised nations, the labour market participation of older workers (i.e. those aged 50 and over) continues to attract considerable attention, as the numbers in employment decline and those who are inactive or retired increase (for a 21-country review see OECD, 2006). Against a background of concern over the economic and social implications of low employment rates among the over-50s, much public policy has come to focus on extending the average working life by encouraging people to work for longer and to delay retirement (see, for example, House of Lords, 2003; and on European policy, von Nordeim, 2004).

    Vickerstaff, Sarah and Cox, Jennie (2005) Retirement and Risk: The Individualisation of Retirement Experiences. Sociological Review, 53 (1). pp. 77-95. ISSN 0038-0261.


    A climate of uncertainty and risk exists in the field of retirement and pensions. Many employers have modified their pension schemes shifting the financial risk onto employees. Many individuals with private pensions have watched the value of their savings diminish. Added to this, the trend toward early retirement before state pension age has destabilised the traditional life course notion of a fixed retirement age, (especially for men). As a result, the concept of retirement itself has become more unpredictable and difficult to define. In this article we examine the extent of the individualisation of retirement experiences by reference to a study of retirement transitions in two organisations. The research investigated the influences on people's retirement decisions and the extent to which they experienced choice and control over how and when they retired. It is possible to identify a pattern of individualisation in contrast to its opposite of a mass transition into retirement, collectively understood and embedded in formal, institutionalised arrangements. However, underlying this fragmentation of experience there are clear structural patterns. The form that structured individualisation took here, was less to increase the majority of people's range of alternatives and choices over when and how to retire and more to enlarge the range of risks they had to cope with.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (2003) Apprenticeship in the 'golden age': Were youth transitions really smooth and unproblematic back then? Work Employment & Society, 17 (2). pp. 269-287. ISSN 0950-0170.


    This article challenges the taken-for-granted orthodoxy of contemporary youth studies that young people's transitions from school to work have become extended and fragmented in comparison to those of people who left school in the period 1945-75. It is argued that the characterization of the earlier period as a `golden age' of smooth, unproblematic, one-step transitions from school into the labour market misrepresents the experiences of people in that period and in particular, fails to understand the specificity of the apprenticeship model of transition which was experienced by around 35 percent of the male school-leaving age cohort. The discussion examines the experience of people in the period 1945-75 by reference to 30 interviews undertaken by the author with people who did apprenticeships in a variety of trades.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah and Cox, Jennie and Keen, Linda (2003) Employers and the management of retirement. Social Policy & Administration, 37 (3). pp. 271-287. ISSN 0144-5596.


    In the UK early withdrawal from the labour market is seen as a risk and a cost, worsening the dependency ratio, raising public and private pension costs and threatening additional welfare expenditure over the longer term. Explanations of the retirement process have focused on the welfare state and the impact of pensions and other social security policies. This paper argues that a missing actor in these accounts is the employing organization. Early retirement in the UK has been predominantly driven by the labour requirements of employers rather than state policies to encourage older workers to take early retirement. There is a case for arguing that significant change in retirement behaviour in the UK will come primarily from the modification of employers’ policies. This research is a case study of three employers: one public-sector and two commercial. It examines the dynamics of the retirement decision. This paper reports the public-sector case. The findings indicate that employers, in order to reduce their pensions liabilities and stem the cost of early retirement, are trying to regain control of the retirement process. The employees interviewed felt they experienced little choice concerning their retirement, had limited knowledge of the options open to them and found pensions complicated and confusing.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah and Thirkell, John E. M. (2000) Instrumental rationality and European integration: Transfer or avoidance of industrial relations institutions in central and eastern Europe? European Journal of Industrial Relations, 6 (2). pp. 237-251. ISSN 0959-6801.


    This article reviews the early phase of transformation of industrial relations in central and eastern Europe (CEE). It considers how far these countries have been able to consolidate institutions based on western European models and processes: an index of the ability of the European Union to influence institutional development. After summarizing the main features of industrial relations change in GEE, the article examines works councils as an emblematic case of the development of an industrial relations institution. The discussion concludes by outlining the limits of the impact of the EU on the development of industrial relations in GEE.

    Keen, Linda and Vickerstaff, Sarah (1997) 'We're all human resource managers now': Local government middle managers. Public Money & Management, 17 (3). pp. 41-46. ISSN 0954-0962.


    In the context of the much-publicised moves within local government from traditional Personnel Management to new Human Resource Management (HRM) systems, this article explores the extent to which line managers' day-to-day people management practices had changed as a consequence of their local authority's formal adoption of HRM policies. While many of these managers had made real and substantial changes in their people management activities, it was nevertheless clear that barriers remained to the full realization of the HRM ideal, with potentially adverse consequences for the managers' motivation and pe performance levels and for overall organizational effectiveness.

    Parker, Kim T. and Vickerstaff, Sarah (1996) TECs, LECs and small firms: differenfces in provision and performance. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 14 (2). pp. 251-267. ISSN 0263-774X.


    In this paper the way in which the Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) and Local Enterprise Companies (LECs) have been responding to the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector is considered. By reference to a questionnaire survey of TECs and LECs the organisational mechanisms and policy initiatives which have been developed to reach SMEs are evaluated. The analysis is concentrated on the differential performance of TECs and LECs and whether size and employment composition factors, or the complexity of the area the TEC or LEC operates in, affects its ability to encourage small-business involvement.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah and Parker, Kim T. (1995) Helping small firms: the contribution of TECs and LECs. International Small Business Journal, 13 (4). pp. 56-72. ISSN 0266-2426.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (1993) International comparisons of vocational-education and training for intermediate skills - Ryan,P. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 31 (1). pp. 165-166. ISSN 0007-1080.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (1993) Agenda for change - an international analysis of industrial-relations in transition - Niland,J, Oliver,C. Journal of Management Studies, 30 (4). pp. 689-691. ISSN 0022-2380.

Book Sections

    Vickerstaff, Sarah and Phillipson, Chris and Wilkie, Ross (2011) Work, health and wellbeing: an introduction. In: Vickerstaff, Sarah and Phillipson, Chris and Wilkie, Ross Work, Health and Well-Being: The Challenges of Managing Health at Work. Policy Press, Bristol. ISBN 9781847428080.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (2011) Work and welfare. In: Baldock, John C. and Mitton, Lavinia and Manning, Nick et al. Social Policy. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 9780199570843.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (2011) Education, schools, and training. In: Baldock, John C. and Mitton, Lavinia and Manning, Nick et al. Social Policy. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 9780199570843.

    Loretto, Wendy and Vickerstaff, Sarah and White, Phil (2007) Flexible Work and Older Workers. In: Loretto, Wendy and Vickerstaff, Sarah and White, Phil The future for older workers: New perspectives. Policy Press, Bristol, pp. 139-160. ISBN 978-1-86134-896-8.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah and Loretto, Wendy and White, Phil (2007) The future for older workers: opportunities and constraints. In: Loretto, Wendy and Vickerstaff, Sarah and White, Phil The future for older workers: New perspectives. Policy Press, Britstol, pp. 203-226. ISBN 978-1-86134-896-8.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (2007) Work and welfare. In: Baldock, John C. and Manning, Nick and Vickerstaff, Sarah Social policy (3rd edition). Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 144-170. ISBN 978-0-19-928497-9.

    Loretto, Wendy and Vickerstaff, Sarah and White, Phil (2007) Introduction. In: Loretto, Wendy and Vickerstaff, Sarah and White, Phil The future for older workers: New perspectives. Policy Press, Bristol, pp. 1-6. ISBN 976-1-86134-896-8.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (2007) Education, schools and training. In: Baldock, John C. and Manning, Nick and Vickerstaff, Sarah Social Policy (3rd ed). Oxford University press, Oxford, pp. 381-406. ISBN 978-0-19-928497-9.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (2006) ‘Life Course, Youth and Old Age’. In: Taylor-Gooby, Peter F. and Zinn, Jens O. Risk in social science. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 180-201. ISBN 0-19-928595-0.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (2006) Work and Welfare for Older Workers. In: Spross, C. Beschaftigungsfoderung alterer Arbeitnehmer in Europa. Institut IAB, Berlin, pp. 199-212. ISBN 0173-6574.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah (2005) Learning for Life? The Post War Experience of Apprenticeship. In: Pole, Christopher and Pilcher, J. and Williams, John Young People in Transition: Becoming Citizens? Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, pp. 31-52. ISBN 978-1403933683.

Research Reports

    Vickerstaff, Sarah and Macvarish, Jan and Taylor-Gooby, Peter F. et al. (2012) Trust and confidence in pensions: A literature review. Department for Work and Pensions, 20 pp. ISBN 9781908523570.


    This working paper presents the findings of a literature review, originally commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in spring 2009, to look at existing research and analysis on trust and confidence, with special reference to pensions. Its main aim was to provide a greater understanding of the concepts of trust and confidence generally, but especially in relation to pensions. In so doing, the review aimed to cover the relationship between trust and confidence and individuals’ attitudes and behaviour around pensions and retirement planning, and issues around measuring trust and confidence in pensions. The review aimed to explore in depth the prevalence and nature of trust and confidence, including exploring issues such as: • definitions and categories of trust and confidence; • what engenders and influences trust and confidence; • the nature of the relationship between trust, and attitudes and behaviour towards pensions. The review also aimed to explore existing measures of trust and confidence in pensions and to highlight issues that might potentially have some bearing on policies over pensions information and communications, and future research and analysis in this field.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah and Loretto, Wendy and Milne, Alisoun et al. (2009) Employment support for carers. Department for Work and Pensions, 182 pp. ISBN 9781847126306.


    This report presents the findings of a qualitative research study, commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in April 2008, to examine and understand what employment support is needed for carers in order for them to take up and remain in work. Many carers who are not currently working would like to do so and the DWP is keen to understand the support they require to achieve this. The background to the project is the DWP’s aim to promote work as the best form of welfare for people of working age by ensuring that work is seen as the best way out of poverty, while protecting the position of those in greatest need. This summary provides an overview of the research findings and the policy implications of the study.

    Vickerstaff, Sarah and Loretto, Wendy and Billings, Jenny R. et al. (2008) Encouraging labour market activity among 60-64 year olds. Funded/commissioned by: Department for Work and Pensions. Department for Work and Pensions, 166 pp. ISBN 9781847124418.


    This research aimed to explore in some detail the attitudes and behaviours of people aged 50-64 towards work and retirement. The principal objective was to better understand what incentives, support or policy development might encourage people, especially those aged 60-64, to extend their working lives by staying in work longer or by returning to work if they had left the labour force. The research sought to answer the following questions: 1 What barriers to working exist for 60-64 year olds; and how personal, structural and cultural factors interact to depress their labour market participation? 2 What incentives would particularly help working among this age group? 3 How the labour market opportunities of State Pension Age (SPA) equalisation can be maximised. 4 How barriers to working might be removed. In common with other studies of work and retirement, we found a wide diversity of attitudes, circumstances, behaviours and intentions. Overall there was only limited appetite for extending working lives. A common feature among those who were working after retirement, or those who were considering extending their working lives, was a preference for flexible working. Part-time or casual work were the most common forms of flexible working in practice. The importance of flexible work opportunities for retaining older workers in the labour market was reinforced.

    Loretto, Wendy and Vickerstaff, Sarah and White, Phil (2005) Older Workers and Options for Flexible Work. Equal Opportunities Commission, 92 pp. ISBN 1842061488.


    The key aims of the review were to find out from the existing body of research: * What are the current patterns of employment of older men and older women? * What kind of flexible work options do older female and older male workers need, what informs their needs, and what are the barriers - including pension arrangements - to their taking up flexible and part-time work? * What would happen to patterns of employment for older women and older men if flexible working were more widely available? * What needs to be done to achieve more flexibility for older workers? The review consisted of three elements: a comprehensive review of existing literature from governmental and non-governmental sources; secondary analysis of existing datasets, especially the Labour Force Survey; and theme building to identify the key issues associated with older workers, gender and flexible employment.

Edited Books

    Vickerstaff, Sarah and Phillipson, Chris and Wilkie, Ross (2011) Work, Health and Well-Being: The Challenges of Managing Health at Work. Policy Press, Bristol, 304 pp. ISBN 9781847428080.


    The relationship between health and work is widely recognised as complex and multifaceted. In the context of an ageing population our ability to enable people with health issues to continue working is becoming more critical. This multi-disciplinary volume brings together original research from diverse disciplinary backgrounds investigating how we can define and operationalise a bio-psychosocial model of ill-health to improve work participation in middle and later life.

    Baldock, John C. and Mitton, Lavinia and Manning, Nick et al. (2011) Social Policy. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 592 pp. ISBN 9780199570843.


    What is social policy, and why are welfare systems important? How have they been affected by the global financial crisis? The fourth edition of this well-respected textbook provides an excellent introduction to social policy in the twenty-first century. Expert contributors examine the development, delivery, and implications of welfare, as well as the social and economic context by which it is shaped. With numerous helpful learning features and an attractive two-colour text design it is an ideal starting point for students new to the subject, and for those looking to take their learning further. The fourth edition includes three new chapters on the history and development of social policy, making social policy in a global context, and how to research and write about social policy. It is up-to-date with the coalition government's social policy agenda, and offers increased coverage of the important issues of equality, gender, ethnicity, migration, globalization and sustainability.

    Loretto, Wendy and Vickerstaff, Sarah and White, Phil (2007) The Future for Older Workers: New perspectives. Policy Press, Bristol, 208 pp. ISBN 978-1-86134-896-8.

    Baldock, John C. and Manning, Nick and Vickerstaff, Sarah (2007) Social Policy. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 768 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-928497-9.


    The third edition of this well established textbook remains a key book for students of social policy and other sociology related disciplines. Updates to this edition cover Labour's administration (1997 to date), taking into account the commitments made by Labour in their 2005 general election campaign. Each chapter is written by an expert in the field, to provide comprehensive coverage of a wide variety of social policy and welfare issues. All the existing chapters have been thoroughly reviewed and updated to take into account recent changes in British and European social policy. For this edition one new chapter has been added - Globalization and Social Policy. The chapters are written in a non-technical way and are supported by detailed case studies, suggestions for further reading, end-of-chapter questions and a glossary. In addition, the supporting online resource centre provides further material including weblinks, answers to the end-of-chapter questions, and updates.

    Baldock, John C. and Manning, Nick and Vickerstaff, Sarah (2003) Social Policy. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 678 pp. ISBN 0-19-925894-5.

Conference Items
Total publications in KAR: 60 [See all in KAR]
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Research interests

My main research interests are in the changes to the relationship between paid work and the life course, in particular at the beginning and end of working life.

The parallels between debates on the changing nature of ageing at the end of the life course and at the beginning are striking. The literature on youth transitions has been grappling with the problem of understanding the experience of youth and emerging adulthood in societies where the traditional routes from school to work and family home to independent living seem to have become less secure and more fragmented.

Young people in Britain no longer make cohort related “mass transitions” into work at given ages; the routes and pathways have apparently become more complex and varied. Read Apprenticeship in the ‘golden age’: were youth transitions really smooth and unproblematic back then?

This provides a parallel with the discussion of the break up of mass transitions into retirement for men at 65 and women at 60. Routes into retirement and older age and their timing have also apparently become more complex and varied. Read I’d rather keep running to the end and then jump off the cliff’. Retirement Decisions: Who Decides?'

This general area of interest is translated into two specific research themes:

  • The employability of older workers and how employing organisations structure, facilitate or frustrate individuals' work and retirement aspirations
  • How retirement transitions are changing.

Current and recent research funding

  • £17,000 ESRC Seminar Competition Rethinking Retirement, 2010-2012 with David Lain (Brighton) and Wendy Loretto (Edinburgh).
  • £43,753, Medical Research Council Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Collaborative Network Grant, Ross Wilkie (PI) Keele, Sarah Vickerstaff (Co-I), Chris Phillipson (Co-I), MRC Ref. G0900038. (Money went to Keele) 2009-2010.
  • £98,546 Department for Work and Pensions project "Employment Support for Carers" 2008-2009 (PI). £31,962 is subcontracted to Edinburgh University under my direction.
  • £106,610 Department for Work and Pensions, 2006-2007 'Encouraging Labour Market activity among 60-64 year olds', (Principal Investigator).
  • £14,670 Equal Opportunities Commission 2004-2005 'Older Workers and Options for Flexible Work' (with W. Loretto and P. White, University of Edinburgh ).
  • £15,000 ESRC 2004-2005, 'The Employability of Older Workers' ESRC Seminar Competition (with W. Loretto and P. White, University of Edinburgh ).
  • £60,000, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2001-2004. The Organisational Context of Retirement: the impact of employers' age management policies and practice on the process of retirement (I was the principal investigator working with J. Baldock, J. Cox and L. Keen).

Read my CV.


I have supervised 12 PhDs to completion so far. I currently have five PhD students. I am interested in supervising research in the following areas:

  • The management of older workers and the process of retirement
  • Older workers experience of working
  • The domestic context of retirement
  • Vocational education and training policy in the UK, especially in relation to apprenticeship and other forms of work based learning.

My own research is based on qualitative methods, case studies and historical policy analysis and it is research using such methods that I feel best qualified to supervise.

If you have a proposal in these areas and would like to discuss the possibility of studying at the University of Kent, please email me to discuss further.


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My main areas of teaching are:

  • Qualitative Methods
  • Education and Training Policy


Over the years I have taught a range of undergraduate modules including: Women, Gender and Social Policy; Human Resource Management and stage 1 Social Policy and Social Problems modules.

For graduates, I convene the Qualitative Methods module and teach on the new Worlds of Work module.

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  • Arbitrator, ACAS Panel of Arbitrators 1999 cont.
  • Member of the Social Policy Association
  • Member of the British Sociological Association
  • Member of the British University Industrial Relations
  • Member of the Association Gerontological Society of America

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Professor Sarah Vickerstaff

Older Workers: The 'Unavoidable Obligation' of Extending Our Working Lives?

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Telephone: +44(0)1227 823072 Fax: +44(0)1227 827005 or email us

SSPSSR, Faculty of Social Sciences, Cornwallis North East, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NF

Last Updated: 26/01/2015