Open Access

The Impact of Working Beyond Traditional Retirement Ages on Mental Health: Implications for Public Health and Welfare Policy

Public Health Reviews201032:BF03391615

DOI: 10.1007/BF03391615

Published: 6 December 2010


Background: Many people now want or need to work longer due to increased life expectancy. In some countries statutory retirement ages deny older people free access to the labour market. It has been hypothesised that exclusion from employment may have negative effects on the mental health of older people. The global financial crisis has forced some countries to propose increasing the retirement age but the implications of this for population health are unclear. This paper reviews the evidence for the mental health impacts of working beyond retirement, and discusses the implications for future public health and welfare policy.

Methods: A systematic literature review was conducted of studies that examined the effect of working or volunteering beyond traditional retirement ages on mental health outcomes.

Results: Of the ten studies that met the inclusion criteria, none showed a negative impact of working beyond retirement age on mental health. Four studies showed that post-retirement working has a statistically significant positive effect on a range of mental health outcomes.

Discussion: This review suggests that working beyond traditional retirement ages may be beneficial for mental health in some populations. The mechanisms by which this occurs are complex but are likely to be mediated by the maintenance of productive societal roles, continued income and social support. The benefits of post-retirement employment are unlikely to be universal as such factors will have varying effects depending on individual lifestyle, self-esteem and socioeconomic status. Although our research shows that allowing older people free access to the employment market may have important health benefits, flexible retirement strategies are needed to ensure that any national policy to increase statutory retirement age does not increase health and social inequalities in the elderly.

Key words

Retirement volunteerism employment status mental health social policy elderly