The transition from work to retirement remains one of the major turning points within an individual’s life course, as it entails a variety of significant changes. Income and occupational prestige may decrease, but so does work-related stress; similarly, work-related social networks may loosen, but private networks can be strengthened and time is freed up for formerly neglected or new tasks and activities. Studies have explored why people retire (individual motivations), how they retire (institutional pathways), and how retirement affects different dimensions of older adults’ lives, including their health, wellbeing, finances, social networks and activities. We know that individuals retire in different ways and perceive/experience their retirement differently. This is likely to be influenced by the nature of their (previous) employment and by their gender, marital status, ethnicity, and social class. Retirement transitions may also be influenced by welfare legislation in a particular country and by discourses and norms around ‘right’ retirement ages.
Altogether, research suggests that the retirement transition is closely related to markers of social inequalities. Nevertheless, inequalities may be enhanced or even altered to some degree by policies to extend working lives. Policy changes include increases in pension ages, the closure of early retirement options, the lowering of replacement rates, and, in some countries, the abolition of mandatory retirement ages. Consequently, policies have recently focused on ‘activating’ older employees and keeping them in the labor market as long as possible, but also on framing their (in-)ability to do so in terms of individual responsibility. At the same time, research suggests that ageism is still widespread among employers, resulting in older employees being viewed as less productive, less likely to be invested in and more likely to be offered early retirement routes. This results in a new and pronounced form of ‘structural lag’ between societal expectations (and, often, individual preferences) on the one hand and institutionalized stereotypes and limited possibilities to work for older adults on the other. In this context, pressures to extend working lives may increase inequalities among those working longer and among those in retirement.
Against this backdrop, this Research Topic is concerned with the (re-)production of social inequalities within the transition from work to retirement. It particularly welcomes contributions that propose innovative theoretical and conceptual perspectives on this issue, that are concerned with emerging mechanisms in this (re-)production, and that focus on new risk groups. It accepts contributions using quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods.
Keywords: Retirement, social inequalities, mixed methods, life course transitions
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