“Work and retirement”
The transition from work into retirement is a pressing issue in public discourse and in policy. Why are some older people in employment and others already retired? This is not only a matter of work, health and opportunity, but a function of the complex interaction of individual, work, regulatory, socioeconomic, company and family settings. Furthermore, the processual character of retirement, the dynamism of relevant groups, factors and framework conditions and the increasing conceptual and temporal fragmentation of retirement add to this complexity. Here, the conference was aimed to combine qualitative and quantitative (longitudinal) research findings and conceptual thinking – and to reflect on how research on work and retirement can meet the research challenges ahead.
“Work, age and health”
Research on work and health was for a long time characterised by small-scale cross-sectional studies, generating only very limited knowledge regarding the role of working conditions in the aetiology of physical illnesses and mental disorders. This has changed during the last decade where we have seen the emergence of numerous large-scale cohort studies and international research consortia combining cohorts from different countries. The conference provided a forum for sharing new evidence from prospective studies and opening the view towards new research questions arising.
“Life course approaches in retirement research”
To capture the life long process-related character of retirement the application of a life course perspective is needed. A life course approach considers a person’s past exposures in order to understand current conditions, adding the notion of change as well as current level – and it highlights chains of risks that link conditions in one part of the life course to outcomes in another. One challenge of life course research is choosing appropriate theoretical models that underlie the associations of determinants and outcomes over time (e.g., cumulative risks over time vs. threshold approaches). Translated into retirement research this means the identification of dynamics in the determinants of employment participation, of change, of temporal and further relations, of transition phases and also work-retirement trajectories. At the conference, we discussed how life course approaches in retirement research may contribute new evidence on employment participation, may advance retirement theory building, and may provide considerable evidence needed for effective organizational and policy intervention.
“Measuring change in longitudinal research”
“Retirement is a process” - this temporal complexity challenges the traditional connotation of retirement among researchers. For them, the adoption of a life course perspective will require a shift from single-point observations and interpretations to the identification of changes over time, processes, and of life course and retirement trajectories. But how can this be captured in statistical analysis of longitudinal data? Or: how to evaluate change in risk factors and outcome and in their associations over time? New methodological approaches are available addressing the dynamic pattern of the interplay of determinants, intermediates (e.g., health), and (e.g. employment) consequences. Two examples are: The life-course approach with trajectories over time and trajectories of group membership may be a relevant methodological approach for the study design while multi-state models for changes in risk factors and health states over time are a current statistical approach.
“Cross-national assessments – opportunities and challenges”
European statistics document substantial differences in employment rates at higher working age and mean retirement age across European countries. These differences may be explained by a long list of micro, meso and macro level factors illustrated by the concept of retirement complexity. Although systems vary, important lessons can be drawn from comparing countries. Cross-national comparative research allows us to explore why employment participation differs between countries, to see whether patterns of association are universal or specific and to test whether different policies impact on work, health and employment.
Key questions in this approach are: Is cross-national research in the field of work and retirement possible? How can we find and explain differences between countries? How can we ensure sample comparability in cross-national research? What are the appropriate methods to analyse cross-national data? How to integrate qualitative and quantitative studies in cross-national research? And not least: what is the most appropriate unit of analysis – nation, region or culture?
We expected the participants’ conference contributions to reflect the fact that, today, the analysis of cross-national diversity is a major objective as well as challenge of comparative economic and social science research when it comes to work and labour market participation in later life.