Background: facing the costs of population ageing, many governments aim to keep older people in employment for longer. Summary health measures predict early retirement, but more specific symptoms and conditions need to be identified to guide efforts to delay retirement.
Objective: to identify common symptoms and conditions that predict early work exit, at the population level.
Design: cohort study of community dwelling respondents to the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.
Setting and participants: a total of 1,693 workers aged 50 and over at baseline who were younger than the contemporaneous retirement age (60 for women, 65 for men) at 4-year follow-up.
Results: a total of 308 (18.2%) individuals moved out of employment during the follow-up period. Advancing age, female gender, partner retirement, greater pension wealth, high alcohol consumption and fair or poor self-rated health were all associated with work exit. Accounting for these factors, reported difficulty walking a quarter mile was predictive of early work exit (odds ratio (OR) = 2.23; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.42-3.52), especially where symptoms included lower limb pain and/or shortness of breath. Symptomatic depression (measured by Centre for Epidemiological Studies Depression scale) was also predictive of early work exit (OR = 1.52, CI 1.07, 2.18). About 50.8% of early retirees reported one or more of these specific health symptoms (depression, general pain, mobility limitations and leg pain when walking).
Conclusion: older workers who report depressive symptoms or impaired physical mobility, especially with lower limb pain and shortness of breath, are at increased risk of early transition out of work. Health interventions targeting these conditions may enable older workers to remain in the labour force.