Is Mental Health Affected by Retirement?

New study with SHARE data finds that retirement has a positive effect on mental health, especially for women and blue-collar workers.

(April 2019) How does retirement affect mental health? This question remains relevant as Europe’s aging societies are struggling to confront the financial consequences of early retirement. Encouraging citizens to remain in the workforce longer has been supported by scientific findings that reported a positive effect of employment on mental health. Researchers Kolodziej and García-Gómez use SHARE data to take a closer look at this general effect. Their results confirm that retirement does in fact have a protective effect for mental health, specifically for women and blue-collar workers.

The mental health effect of retirement is heterogeneous

While previous research has solely focused on age of retirement and reported symptoms of depression for a general indication of how retirement affects the overall mental health of a country’s population, Kolodziej and García-Gómez consider a whole variety of criteria to assess the impact of retirement on the mental health of individuals. Criteria they take into consideration are marital status, number of children, occupation before retirement and sex. These criteria are weighed against the number of symptoms of clinical depression the survey participants reported. Paying attention to this heterogeneity of the retired population, the researchers find an uneven distribution of the mental health effect of retirement.

Women and blue-collar workers benefit most from retirement

Generally, the researchers find a protective effect of retirement on mental health. However, the magnitude of said effect strongly differs and can be linked to certain of the above-mentioned criteria: Blue-collar workers (as shown by previous SHARE studies) and women are the two groups that benefit most from retirement – coincidentally, they are also the groups displaying the most symptoms of clinical depression. Furthermore, the protective effect of retirement seems larger for those with children support, especially among the population with better mental health.

Consequences of the heterogeneous nature of effect

The study’s results are especially relevant in view of reforms aimed at increasing the retirement age. They suggest that these reforms potentially have vast consequences in terms of mental health. Increasing the retirement age can furthermore deteriorate the mental health of older workers with already frail mental health. Policy makers should pay attention to this effect, especially if their reforms are accompanied by tightened eligibility criteria for people with mental health issues.

Study by Ingo W.K. Kolodziej, Pilar García-Gómez (2019): Saved by Retirement: Beyond the Mean Effect on Mental Health. Social Sciences & Medicine 225 (2019), 85-97.


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