Older Women’s Experiences in the Icelandic Workforce – Positive or Negative?


  • Sigurveig H. Sigurðardóttir University of Iceland, Iceland
  • Ásta Snorradóttir University of Iceland, Iceland




Health, Working Environment & Wellbeing, Work/Life Balance, Gender, Ethnicity, Age and Diversity


The purpose of the study is to gain a deeper understanding of older women’s experiences in the labour market, how they value their job opportunities and perceived attitudes towards them. Qualitative interviews were conducted with seven women aged 57–74 years who all have at least 10 years working experience after they turned 40. Experiencing discrimination in the workforce was often mentioned by the women. Their experience is that men are less discriminated against on grounds of age than women. Older women pride themselves for participating in the workforce for being reliable, unselfish and undemanding rather than being experienced, skillful and good at their jobs. The results indicate that it is important to research further the well-being of older women in the labour market and try to change the negative attitudes and discrimination that appear prevalent. Ageism against older women can affect their well-being and health and must be prevented.

Author Biographies

Sigurveig H. Sigurðardóttir, University of Iceland, Iceland

PhD, Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Work, School of Social Sciences. E-mail: sighsig@hi.is

Ásta Snorradóttir, University of Iceland, Iceland

PhD, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Work, School of Social Sciences


Aaltio, I., Salminen, H. M. and Koponen, S. (2014). Ageing employees and human resource management: evidence of gender-sensitivity? Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal 33(2): 160–176. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/EDI-10-2011-0076.

Abrams, D., Swift, H. and Drury, L. (2016). Old and unemployable? How age-based stereotypes affect willingness to hire job candidates, Journal of Social Issues 72(1): 105–121. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/josi.12158.

Ainsworth, S. (2002), The ‘feminine advantage’: a discursive analysis of the invisibility of older women workers, Gender, Work & Organization 9: 579-601. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0432.00176.

Ayalon, L. (2013). Feelings towards older vs. younger adults: results from the European Social Survey, Educational Gerontology 39(12): 888–901. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/03 601277.2013.767620.

Büsch, V., Dittrich, D. and Lieberum, U. (2012). Determinants of work motivation and work ability among older workers and implications for the desire for continued employment, Comparative Population Studies 35(4): 931–958. https://doi.org/10.4232/10.CPoS-2010-20en.

de Wind, A., Geuskens, G. A., Ybema, J. F., Blatter, B. M., Burdorf, A., Bongers, P. M. and van der Beek, A. J. (2014). Health, job characteristics, skills, and social and financial factors in relation to early retirement – results from a longitudinal study in the Netherlands, Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment Health 40(2): 186–194.

Duncan, C. and Loretto, W. (2004). Never the right age? Gender and age-based discrimination in employment. Gender, Work and Organization 11(1): 95–115. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0432.2004.00222.x.

European Union (2012). Active Ageing [online]. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/archives/ebs/ebs_378_en.pdf [Accessed January 31, 2020].

Eurostat (2019). Duration of Working Life – Statistics [online]. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/pdfscache/57155.pdf [Accessed January 30, 2020].

Eurostat (2020). Employment Rates by Sex, Age and Educational Attainment Level (%) [online]. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-datasets/product?code=lfsq_ergaed [Accessed January 30, 2020].

Furunes, T. and Mykletun, R. (2010). Age discrimination in the workplace: validation of the Nordic Age Discrimination Scale (NADS), Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 51(1): 23–30. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9450.2009.00738.x.

Government of Iceland (2019). Constitution of the Republic of Iceland [online]. Available at: http://www.government.is/constitution/ [Accessed January 31, 2020].

Gringart, E., Helmes, E. and Speelman, C. (2005). Exploring attitudes toward older workers among Australian employers, Journal of Aging & Social Policy 17(3): 85–103. doi: https://doi.org/10.1300/J031v17n03_05.

Howitt, D. (2016). Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods in Psychology. 3rd ed., Harlow, UK: Pearson.

Ilmarinen, J. (2009). Work ability-a comprehensive concept for occupational health research and prevention, Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment Health 35(1): 1–5.

Iversen, T. N., Larsen, L. and Solem, P. E. (2009). A conceptual analysis of ageism, Nordic Psychology 61(3): 4–22. doi: https://doi.org/10.1027/1901-2276.61.3.4.

Jensen, P. and Møberg, R. (2012). Age management in Danish companies: what, how, and how much? Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies 2(3): 49–66. doi: https://doi.org/10.19154/njwls.v2i3.2363.

Johns, M. L. (2013). Breaking the glass ceiling: structural, cultural, and organizational barriers preventing women from achieving senior and executive positions, Perspectives in Health Information Management 10: 1e.

Júlíusdóttir, Ó., Rafnsdóttir, G. L. and Einarsdóttir, Þ. (2018). Top managers and the gendered interplay of organizations and family life: the case of Iceland, Gender in Management: An International Journal 33(8): 602–622. doi: https://doi:10.1108/GM-03-2017-0028.

Kadefors, R. and Hanse, J. (2012). Employers’ attitudes toward older workers and obstacles and opportunities for the older unemployed to reenter working life, Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies 2(3): 29–47. doi: https://doi.org/10.19154/njwls.v2i3.2362.

Kvale, S. and Brinkmann, S. (2009). InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing, 2nd ed., Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc.

Lund, T. and Villadsen, E. (2005). Who retires early and why? Determinants of early retirement pension among Danish employees 57–62 years, European Journal of Ageing 2: 275–280.

Ministry of Welfare (1999). Lög um málefni aldraðra aldraðra [Act on the Affairs of the elderly], no. 125/1999 [online]. Available at: https://www.stjornarradid.is/media/velferdarraduneyti-media/media/acrobat-enskar_sidur/Act-on-the-Affairs-of-the-Elderly-No-125-1999-with-subsequent-amendmends-16.pdf [Accessed January 31, 2020].

Ministry of Welfare (2009). Verkefnisstjórn 50+. Starfsskýrsla 2005–2010. [Project Management 50+. Report 2005–2010] [online]. Available at: https://www.stjornarradid.is/media/velferdarraduneyti-media/media/50plus/50plus_lokaskyrsla031209.pdf [Accessed January 30, 2020].

Ministry of Welfare (2015). Staða kvenna og karla á íslenskum vinnumarkaði. Staðreyndir og staða þekkingar. [The situation of women and men in the Icelandic labour market. Facts and status of knowledge] [online]. Available at: https://www.stjornarradid.is/media/velferdarraduneyti-media/media/rit-og-skyrslur-2015/stada_karla_og_kvenna_ 29052015.pdf [Accessed January 30, 2020].

Ministry of Welfare (2016). Skýrsla nefndar um endurskoðun almannatryggingakerfisins. [Report on reforms in the public pension system] [online]. Available at: https://www.stjornarradid.is/media/velferdarraduneyti-media/media/skyrslur2016/skyrsla_nefndar_um_ endurskodun_laga_um_almannatryggingar_01032016.pdf [Accessed January 16, 2019].

Moore, S. (2009). ‘No matter what I did I would still end up in the same position’: age as a factor defining older women’s experience of labour market participation, Work, Employment & Society 23(4): 655–671.

Naegele, L., De Tavernier, W. and Hess, M. (2018). Work environment and the origin of ageism. In: Ayalon L. and Tesch-Römer, C. (eds). Contemporary Perspectives on Ageism. International Perspectives on Aging, vol 19, Springer: Cham: 73–90. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-73820-8_5.

Nordic Labour Journal (2012). http://www.nordiclabourjournal.org/i-fokus/in-focus 2012/ age-is-no-barrier/article.2012-02-07.3297216816 .

Nilsson, K. (2012). Why work beyond 65? Discourse on the decision to continue working or retire early. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies 2(3): 7. doi: https://doi.org/10.19154/njwls.v2i3.2361.

OECD (2017). Flexible retirement in OECD countries, In: OECD and G20 Indicators. Pensions at a Glance 2017. OECD Publishing: Paris. [online]. doi: https://doi.org/10.1787/pension_glance-2017-5-en.

Sewdas, R., de Wind, A., van der Zwaan, L., van der Borg, W. E., Steenbeek, R., van der Beek, A. J and Boot, C. (2017). Why older workers work beyond the retirement age: a qualitative study, BMC Public Health 17(1): 672. doi: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-017-4675-z.

Sigurðardóttir, S. H. (2006). Viðhorf eldra fólks. Rannsókn á viðhorfi og vilja aldraðra sem búa í heimahúsum. [Attitudes of older people: Research on attitude and willingness of older people living at home.] Ritröð RBF um rannsóknarverkefni á sviði félagsráðgjafar. [RBF series of research projects in the field of social work.]. Reykjavík: Rannsóknastofnun í barna- og fjölskylduvernd. [Centre for Children and Family Research.].

Snorradottir, A., Vilhjalmsson, R., Rafnsdottir, G. L. and Tomasson, K. (2013). Financial crisis and collapsed banks: psychological distress and work-related factors among surviving employees—a nation-wide study, American Journal of Industrial Medicine 56(9): 1095–1106. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.22210.

Social Insurance Administration (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.tr.is/ellilifeyrir/halfur-ellilifeyrir/ [Accessed January 16, 2019].

Solem, P. E. (2016). Ageism and age discrimination in working life, Nordic Psychology 68(3): 160–175. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/19012276.2015.1095650.

Statistic Iceland (2018). Statistical Series. Population projections 2018–2067. [online] Available at: http://hagstofan.s3.amazonaws.com/media/public/2018/30c12065-0604-4445-b4a9-81380cee6e0d.pdf [Accessed January 14, 2019].

Stypińska, J. and Nikander, P. (2018). Ageism and Age Discrimination in the Labour Market: A Macrostructural Perspective. In: Ayalon, L. and Tesch-Römer, C. (eds) Contemporary Perspectives on Ageism. International Perspectives on Aging, vol 19. Springer: Cham.

Statistic Iceland (2019a). Women and Men on the Same Education Level have Different Average Income from Work. [online]. Available at: https://www.statice.is/publications/newsarchive/social-affairs/women-and-men-in-iceland-2019/ [Accessed January 16, 2019].

Statistic Iceland (2019b). The Population Increased by 1,610 in the Second Quarter of 2019. [online]. Available at: https://hagstofa.is/utgafur/frettasafn/mannfjoldi/mannfjoldinn-a-2-arsfjordungi-2019/ [Accessed July 30, 2019].

Statistic Iceland (2019c). Statistical Series. Labour Market Statistics, 4th quarter 2018. [online] Available at: http://hagstofan.s3.amazonaws.com/media/public/2019/5988e2cc-5acf-4965-99d7-7c1b90b1e3fd.pdf [Accessed January 10, 2020].

The Social Science Research Institute. (2017). Greining á högum og líðan aldraðra á Íslandi árið 2016 [Analysis on the conditions and well-being of the elderly in Iceland in 2016]. Reykjavik: University of Iceland. [online] Available at: https://www.stjornarradid.is/media/velferdarraduneyti-media/media/skyrslur2016/Hagir-eldri-borgara-2016.html#T%C3%AD%C3%B0nitafla0 [Accessed January 20, 2020].

Thorsen, S., Rugulies, R., Løngaard, K., Borg,V., Thielen, K. and Bjorner, J. B. (2012). The association between psychosocial work environment, attitudes towards older workers (ageism) and planned retirement, Int Arch Occup Environ Health (2012) 85: 437.

van Dalen, H., Henkens, K., Henderikse, W. and Schippers, J. (2010). Do European employers support later retirement? International Journal of Manpower 31(3): 360–373. doi: https://doi.org/10.1108/01437721011050620.

World Economic Forum (2019). Global Gender Gap Report 2020. [online] Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf [Accessed January 20, 2020].

World Health Organization (WHO) (2018). Ageing. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/facts-in-pictures/detail/ageing [Accessed January 20, 2020].




How to Cite

Sigurðardóttir, S. H., & Snorradóttir, Ásta. (2020). Older Women’s Experiences in the Icelandic Workforce – Positive or Negative?. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 10(4). https://doi.org/10.18291/njwls.122142