Working after retirement is increasingly common in many Western societies. Following a period at the end of the twentieth century in which early retirement was widespread, nowadays working lives are increasingly extended beyond the public pension age. With increasing participation rates of the labour force after retirement, questions about the conditions in which retirees work are gaining in importance.

Research in the United Kingdom suggests a division among working retirees, in which privileged older workers with a high level of autonomy in their retirement are contrasted with disadvantaged older workers who tend to end up in low-quality work at the end of their careers. Similar groups have been suggested in the United States. In spite of potentially increasing inequalities in living standards after retirement, little is known about the specific working conditions and the quality of jobs among populations of working retirees. The aim of our study was to investigate the job quality of working retirees in Europe and test whether there is a clear divide in retirees working in low quality and high quality jobs.  Using data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, we perform latent classanalysis on a sample of 2926 working retirees in 11 European countries.

Table 1: Descriptive information of the observed variables for the latent class analysis
My job is physically demanding
I am under constant time presure due to heavy
work load
I have very little freedom to decide how I work23.11
Work hours

Source: SHARE, waves 1, 2, and 4

 Working retirees in high-strain jobs are most likely to have a low educational background and low pension income. This supports the idea derived from the model of strategic selection that retirees with high socio-economic backgrounds only choose to stay in the labour force when favourable working conditions were available, whereas there is no choice than to remain working for those with low socio-economic background, even if this means accepting work with unfavourable working conditions. Moreover, retirees with high instead of low socio-economic status may have more choice in choosing between several post-retirement jobs, enabling them to choose the highest quality job. Participation in high-strain jobs is thus likely to be at least partially driven by constraints rather than free choice. The two subgroups of working retirees in high- and low-strain jobs are not evenly distributed across the European countries under study.

While a majority of working retirees participate in low strain jobs in countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, only half of the working retirees in countries such as Estonia and Italy participate in low-strain jobs, which implies that the other half is confronted with unfavourable working conditions. The results of the multilevel analysis suggest that this difference is associated with the level of old-age poverty in the countries concerned. The higher the proportion of severe material deprivation among the 60+ population, the more likely retirees are to participate in a high-strain job post-retirement. These results suggest that working after retirement may be a completely different concept in countries such as the Netherlands, where it seems to be an indicator of preference, compared to countries such as Estonia, where it may be more of an indicator of disadvantage in old age.

The results of the latent class analysis reveal that working retirees in Europe can be divided into two subgroups according to the level of job strain. We find a majority of working retirees participating in low-strain jobs, characterised by part-time work, low physical and mental job demands, and high levels of job control. This supports the assumption often made in the literature on bridge employment that participation in paid work after retirement can be a tool allowing gradual adjustment to life without paid work as the central activity. Nevertheless, a considerable group of two in five working retirees is found to participate in high strain jobs. These jobs are characterised by working conditions that are generally found to be undesirable by older workers, such as full-time work, high physical and mental job demands, and low levels of job control. In particular, the intersection of high job demands and low job control may threaten the ability of working retirees to deal with age-related changes, such as cognitive decline, while longer working hours may hamper full recovery from work before a new work shift starts.

Figure 1: Relationship between servere material deprivation and the percentage of working retirees in high strain jobs
Source: Eurostat, 2018 & SHARE, waves 1,2 and 4

About the authors:

Ellen Dingemans

Kène Henkens

The article is based on:

Dingemans, E. & Henkens, K. (2019), Job strain in working retirees in Europe: a latent class analysis. Ageing & Society. Advance access

Ellen Dingemans and Kène Henkens 2019-12-17T14:49:30+01:00
22 Oct 2019

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