Better working conditions delay retirement, but tiredness after work remains a major obstacle to working in later life

Extending the working lives of Australians has long been discussed but two studies involving the SA Centre for Economic Studies (SACES) have produced some interesting European perspectives on the subject.


SACES Senior Research Fellow, Dr Andreas Cebulla, contributed to a recent study of the role of human resource policy and job quality on retirement ages in Europe. The study analysed the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) – a survey of people aged 50 years or older conducted biennially since 2004 and currently covering 27 countries.

In collaboration with colleagues at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) – one of Europe’s leading think-tanks based in Brussels – and Fliedner University Düsseldorf (Germany),  Dr Cebulla explored the link between job quality attributes (such as time pressure, physically demanding work, recognition, pay, job security and skill development opportunities) and overall job satisfaction; and, secondly, job satisfaction and age at retirement. Job satisfaction and quality attributes were first recorded in 2004, and retirement behaviours observed until 2015.

The study identified a strong statistical relationship between individual aspects of job quality and overall job satisfaction, in particular with respect of workers’ experiences of time pressure, freedom to decide how to do their job, support in difficult work situations and job security. Job satisfaction was generally high, in particular among higher skilled workers, with more satisfied workers typically retiring later in life.

The study simulated the effect on increasing job satisfaction, in particular among those currently unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with their job, on retirement age. This found that raising job satisfaction would add about three months, on average, to currently typical retirement ages. The effect would be greater for women and higher educated workers, who both typically retire earlier if unsatisfied with their employment.

Research in Europe and the United States had previously shown increasing statutory retirement ages delayed actual retirement by between one and two years. The effect of better working conditions on retirement is, thus, comparatively small. The study nonetheless concludes that this should not deter efforts to create better and more age-friendly workplaces.

In related research also using European data, researchers from the UK’s National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), the Institute of Education, University College London, and SACES show that fatigue after work remains a major obstacle to families’ accepting extending working lives beyond currently typical retirement ages in Europe.

In summary, the researchers said “our findings indicate that neither actual work engagement, measured in hours spent at work, nor unequal contributions to housework immediately affected partners’ perceptions of job pressures and their impact on family life. Rather, it was work and the workplace that were most strongly associated with partners’ assessments of job pressures: first, via the association with tiredness after work; secondly, via the opportunity it gave workers to organise their daily work”

Dr Cebulla and his colleagues added that “tiredness after work remains the principal adversary to a successful balancing of work and daily living among pre-Effective Retirement Age and post-Effective Retirement Age workers alike”.

The two studies have been published as:

Mikkel Barslund, Jürgen Bauknecht, Andreas Cebulla, Working conditions and retirement: How important are HR policies in prolonging working life? in: mrev management revue, Seite 120 – 141
mrev, Jahrgang 30 (2019), Heft 1, ISSN print: 0935-9915, ISSN online: 0935-9915

Cebulla, Andreas; Hudson-Sharp, Nathan; Stokes, Lucy; Wilkinson, David: Work-Life Imbalance in Extended Working Lives: Domestic Divisions of Labour and Partners’ Perceptions of Job Pressures of Non-Retiring Older Workers. Sozialer Fortschritt, Vol. 68 (2019), Iss. 4: pp. 289–311

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