Retirement is mostly seen as bliss after a long and arduous work life. For such individuals, early retirement should manifest itself in an improvement of well-being and, potentially, also health. On the other hand, however, there are many studies emerging which show that especially early retirement has harmful side effects. Retirees may lose a purpose in life which decreases subjective well-being and mental health. Moreover, biological and psychological research has shown that an active life better maintains the brain and slows down cognitive decline. Research on these issues is important because the willingness to change retirement institutions depends on a generally accepted assessment how much retirement adds to the well-being of retirees.
Such research is complicated because early retirees may report worse health in order to justify their early exit from the workforce, and because employers and workers may choose an early exit age because of bad health and declining cognition. Hence, cause and effect are entangled in many ways. It does not surprise, therefore, that research on these issues has produced controversial results, ranging from a dominance of positive effects (mainly in the US) on the one hand to the other extreme that “retirement kills” (results from Austria).
International evidence is very important in this respect. Some of the controversies may simply reflect differences among the countries, such as the social policy background. It would be important to understand why certain policies make retirement a good or a bad thing and for whom. Second, international variation helps to identify the causal pathways and in which direction they go, since the economic, social and political environment has changed at different times in different countries.
This project is designed to exploit the variation of cultures and policies represented by the 14 International Longevity Centers around the globe, encompassing developed as well as emerging economies, to better understand, which effects retirement has on health and why certain effects dominate in one country while other dominate in another country. The project is a cooperation with Ursula Staudinger, Columbia University.