Some of us have to work but don’t want to. And some of us have to work because we really do.

Only five years ago the headlines were all about women over 50 being on the scrap heap, unable to find work. But a new study finds that 4.9 million of us are now holding down a job over the age of 50, a rise of 38% since 2009 and an incredible doubling of the 1994 figure.

There is a multitude of reasons for this. A rise in the state pension age and huge financial pressures. The need to earn an income post-divorce. Adult children living at home, in some cases into their 30s. The end of those lucrative final-salary pensions. Rising life expectancy necessitating bigger funds to ensure we can afford to live well in our 80s and 90s.

But there is also a vast swathe of women who have retrained to do a job that has more meaning for them.

“There’s a weird cocktail of different factors driving this,” says psychotherapist and Audrey agony aunt Lola Borg. “Once upon a time the menopause meant ‘That’s it – it’s all over’. Whereas now women are coming out the other side and going ‘OK what’s next?’. Some of us genuinely enjoy new work challenges – not to mention earning a living and the financial freedom it gives us.

Economic circumstances are indeed crucial to this drive to retrain, says Lola, with midlife women split between those who have the freedom afforded by a good pension and those who are galvanised into retraining by age discrimination in the workplace and a need to top up their insufficient pension.

““This demographic is the most underserved by the job market and this is a huge waste of talent””

“If you realise you’ve potentially got a few decades left, the urge to do something more fun and fulfilling, to pursue a long-held ambition, can become quite strong. These are women who’ve grown up with the idea that they are capable and life is going to offer them more than the traditional middle-aged woman’s role”.

However for some women that work just isn’t available. The Women and Equalities Committee recently found that more than one million people over the age of 50 – mostly women – were out of work not out of choice, but due to discriminatory practices towards older employees. That over-50s ‘scrap heap’ hasn’t magically disappeared.

Michelle Ovens OBE, founder of small business campaigning firm Peak b and director of Small Business Saturday, wrote in The Scotsman: “This demographic is the most underserved by the job market and this is a huge waste of talent. So, if opportunity doesn’t come knocking, the best option for women is to build the door themselves. It’s a myth that founding a business is a young man’s game. In fact, the average UK business owner is 49, and the average age for starting up is 42. If it’s not too late in life for these overwhelmingly male founders, it’s certainly not too late for women of the same age”.

“Over-50s particularly benefit from a wide experience and often have great networks that they are increasingly setting to work to deliver for their business,” says Michelle. “Many women, of course, choose not to have children and are finding instead that heading into their 50s gives them an opportunity to consider a second career. They are flexing their muscles, finding many opportunities that were perhaps not available when they started on their first career. This is also leading to a boom in female-led support networks to facilitate them, such as Audrey”.

If you’re ready for your own career change or starting up a business get support and advice at the Audrey Restart Club. Join the conversation @bemoreaudrey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And read Michelle’s article here.