• Caroline Keen

Surviving the ‘new normal’: What is the digital capital of women over 50?

It is often the case when thinking about sustainable employment that governments, researchers and policy makers focus heavily on youth and their transition to work, our children today are tomorrow’s workers and leaders after all.

However, the rapidly changing nature of work fueled by disruptive technologies, the increasingly digitised work environment while creating many time and cost efficiencies, it is not without social consequence. The nature of work itself is changing, with many jobs becoming extinct. It is not that technology has not replaced jobs in the past but that the digital context (digital industrial complex) has sharply increased its capabilities by creating enormous data capture and processing capabilities changing the nature of work at a pace that is outstripping our expectations. Governments, corporations, small business, and individuals rely on digital technology to be connected, to work, to learn and to consume. If we are unable to participate then we find ourselves excluded from many consumer and life opportunities.


Many women and especially women over 50 are being left behind as the world of work changes. But it is a combination of factors that contribute to New Zealand women over 50 being disproportionately vulnerable to economic disadvantage. As a group, women over 50 already suffer from rapid decline in employment and earning capacity despite accumulated work experience and skills. Twice as many women than men are in part-time work in this age group (Statistics NZ, 2013). Unemployment rates for women in New Zealand are traditionally higher (Statistics, 2017) but the Covid-19 recession – aptly named ‘shecession’ is having significant consequences for women in this age group, many of whom are Maori, in part-time or ‘swing’ jobs which have evaporated due to cut backs and closures (Harudasani, 2020). This was evidenced by the news that 90% of job losses in New Zealand were women many of whom worked in the tourism and hospitality industries (Duff). Further, government stimulus packages aimed primarily at male dominated industries (Brettkelly, 2020) add to concern that the economic fallout of Coivd-19 represents a backward step for women (Duff, 2020; Curtain, 2020). Currently 30% of all households are solo-parent households and this is projected to increase to 40% in the next ten or so years (Spoonley, 2020). Many women find themselves supporting their children well into their late 20s, and this is a reality severely compounded by Coivd-19 (Spoonley, 2020). Women in this age group also increasingly provide care to aging parents often impacting their ability to work full time, adding further financial strain.

We know that women receive less training while in employment, resulting in lower pay (Statistics NZ, 2012), and this combined with the slide into part-time and unstable work must impact their ability to keep pace with digital technology in ways that harm their future income opportunities. While we know little about the digital capacities of this group, research indicates that women over 50 may struggle to have the necessary digital capital to access sustainable work in the rapidly changing employment climate.

The economic disruption, rapid digitalisation of business, employment trends for women in this age group, along with financial and unpaid burdens of family care mean that they may face serious economic disadvantage in their remaining working lives, as they struggle to keep up with new digital technologies. Research is desperately needed to develop evaluative frameworks for assessing how digital capacities are, and could be, leveraged to improve the opportunities for economic well-being among women over 50.


This research will help to explore the 'digital capital' of women in this age group and gauge the barriers to accessing sustainable employment opportunities (Park, 2017; Ragnetta, 2018).

Social Research NZ will be taking on this issue, and thanks InternetNZ for their research funding to support this project. We will be interviewing women over 50 to hear their thoughts on how the Covid-19 pandemic and digital technologies have impacted and may impact their future opportunities for sustainable employment. If you have lost your job due to Covid-19, or are facing reduced work hours or pay, and are concerned about your future work capabilities in the rapidly changing work environment we would like to hear your concerns.

For further information or to participate in this study please email admin@socialresearchnz.com or call

Dr Caroline Keen on 027 275 8585




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