One in four retired Britons return to work – research by Professor Karen Glaser

King’s researchers examining the reasons why retirees return to employment – or ‘unretire’ – have suggested that the older generation should not be forgotten by policies aiming to keep older people in work.

The ‘Wellbeing, Health, Retirement and the Lifecourse’ (WHERL) consortium, which is led by Professor Karen Glaser Head of Department of Global Health and Social Medicine and Director of the Institute of Gerontology at King’s College London, seeks to understand crucial questions for ageing societies across the globe, examining how inequalities across the lifecourse relate to paid work in later life.

new research paper by the group has shown that around one in four retirees in the UK return to work or ‘unretire’, mostly within five years of retiring.

Writing in Ageing and Society, the team from the WHERL consortium based at King’s found that while unretirement is common, men are more likely to unretire than women, as are people in good health, those who are better educated and those still paying off a mortgage. People who report having financial problems before retiring are not more likely to unretire than those without, nor are those with lower incomes. After ten years, a retiree’s chances of returning to paid work are low.

Key findings include:

  • Men were 26 per cent more likely to return to paid work following retirement than women
  • Individuals in good health were around 25 per cent more likely to return to paid work than those reporting fair, poor or very poor health
  • People whose partner worked were 31 per cent more likely to unretire
  • Mortgage payers were 50 per cent more likely to return to work
  • Those with post-secondary qualifications were almost twice as likely to return to work than those with no qualifications

Professor Karen Glaser, Professor of Gerontology at King’s College London and the WHERL consortium’s senior investigator said, ‘This is the first time we’ve examined unretirement in a general population sample from the UK and, as such, it contributes to a growing body of research examining the nature of labour force participation in later life. The fact that older people with more human capital are more likely to unretire suggests that it may be difficult for those in poorer financial circumstances to find paid work. This may lead to future disparities in later life income.’
She added:

The fact that older people with more human capital are more likely to unretire suggests that it may be difficult for those in poorer financial circumstances to find paid work. This may lead to future disparities in later life income

– Professor Karen Glaser, Institute of Gerontology

The research highlights that recently retired people, aged both above and below the state pension age, represent a pool of potential labour, if the right opportunity presents itself. They are a group that should not be forgotten by policies aiming to keep older people in work.

The team of researchers used data from the British Household Panel Survey (1991-2008) and Understanding Society (2010-2015) to examine levels of retirement reversal, or unretirement. Unretirement was defined as reporting being retired and subsequently recommencing paid employment, or beginning full-time work following a partial retirement.

Lead author of the study Dr Loretta Platts said, ‘This research highlights how common it is for people to return to paid work after retiring.’

‘Access to paid work in later life may enable retirees to supplement their pensions, stay mentally and physically active, and maintain contact with others. Given future labour shortages, the skills and experience provided by older workers are a crucial resource for business. Our research highlights how retirees are often ready to be reengaged in the workforce and that government and employers should not forget about them.’

Professor Debora Price, Director of the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing and a co-author of the paper, said, ‘This work points to the changing nature of retirement transitions and the more fluid relationships that people have with paid work around mid- and into later-life. There are messages here for employers who might want to think about these new demographics, but also for policy makers as it looks like the possibilities to supplement savings or retirement income in later life through unretirement are available to a greater extent to the already advantaged. This is a worry for those of us who are worried about inequalities in later life.’

If you want to know more:

‘Returns to work after retirement: A prospective study of unretirement in the United Kingdom’ by Platts et al is published in Ageing and Society on 1stNovember 2017. [https://doi.org/10.1017/S0144686X17000885]

Other collaborators on this project include Dr. Laurie M. Corna also at the Institute of Gerontology, King’s College London; Dr. Diana Worts and Professor Peggy McDonough who are at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto; and Professor Debora Price is at the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing, University of Manchester.

The research was conducted as part of an interdisciplinary cross-research council consortium on Wellbeing, Health, Retirement and the Lifecourse (WHERL) under the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing (LLHW) programme – Extending Working Lives with additional support from the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare.

For further information please contact the Public Relations Department at King’s College London on 0207 848 3202 or pr@kcl.ac.uk

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