Community views on retirement are polarised. Some see it as an opportunity to escape work obligations and pursue their own passions. Others view the transition as a loss of status, social connectedness, and financial security.
We’ve studied this topic using large samples of Australians to explore how retirement is associated with mental health and well-being.
The view that retirement has a negative effect on mental health is consistent with decades of evidence about the impacts of job loss among young and middle-aged people. And the transition to retirement is certainly a major milestone and lifestyle change, given the central roles work and career play in most people’s lives.
Studies comparing the mental health of retirees with that of working older adults has shown that retirees (particularly men) tend to have greater levels of depression and anxiety than their working peers.
But longitudinal studies that track the mental health of people moving from work to retirement offers little proof that this transition has a significant detrimental impact on the mental health of most people. Indeed, it seems more likely that the poor mental health observed among many retirees precedes and perhaps has driven their workforce exit.
The reasons for retirement, whether people left work gradually or continue to work in some capacity during retirement, and the age at which people leave work have all been shown to affect mental health among retirees.
Not surprisingly, involuntary or unexpected job loss in later life is the form of retirement that has been most consistently linked to increased depression. On the other hand, part or gradual retirement (rather than full departure from the workforce) may ease the stress associated with leaving the workforce.