The WHERL Consortium report that one in four retired Britons returns to work or “unretires”

26 October 2017

Professor Karen Glaser of King’s College London leads the WHERL research programme. A substantial programme of research funded by the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council and carried out in collaboration with the University of Manchester, University College London, and the University of Toronto.

The programme investigates many aspects of Wellbeing, Health, Retirement and the Lifecourse. A paper published today in the journal Ageing & Society by the study, first-authored by Dr Loretta Platts examines the concept of “unretirement” – how common this is; the reasons for it, and its implications. Very little research had previously been undertaken on this subject matter, with only a small handful of studies from the United States and one or two in the UK. However last year retirement and retirement reversal gained the media spotlight when 89-year-old pensioner Joe Bartley made the headlines by placing an ad in his local paper for a job that would save him “from dying of boredom”.

The team from the WHERL consortium includes MICRA director Debbie Price as a Co-Investigator. In this paper, the authors combined data from two British studies: the British Household Panel Study and Understanding Society to follow people aged 50–69 years old from 1991 to 2015. They noted when their participants retired and then followed up to see whether they took up paid work again. Some of their key findings were:

  • About one in four people “unretired” 
  • 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% as likely to return to work
  • Those with post-secondary qualifications were almost twice as likely to return to work than those with no qualifications
  • After ten years a retiree’s chances of returning to paid work are low.

The researchers examined differences in the people who unretire and those who don’t, and note the potential impact for individuals, government and employers in a UK workforce potentially facing future labour shortages. Dr Loretta Platts, the lead author, stated: “Access to paid work in later life may enable retirees to supplement their pensions, stay mentally and physically active, and maintain contact with others.” Debbie Price comments: “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 policymakers 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 concerned about inequalities in later life.” 

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