Functional health decline before and after retirement: A longitudinal analysis of the Health and Retirement Study

Soc Sci Med. 2016 Dec:170:26-34. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.10.002. Epub 2016 Oct 4.


Objectives: The aims of this study are to examine the pattern of pre- and post-retirement changes in functional health and to examine the degree to which socioeconomic position (SEP) modifies pre- and post-retirement changes in functional health.

Method: This longitudinal study was conducted using data from the Health and Retirement Study from 1992 to 2012. Piecewise linear regression analyses with generalised estimating equations were used to calculate trajectories of limitations in mobility and large muscle functions before and after retirement spanning a time period of 16 years. Interaction terms of three indicators of SEP with time before and after retirement were examined to investigate the modifying effect of SEP on changes in functional health before and after retirement.

Results: Average levels of limitations in mobility and large muscle functions increased significantly in the years prior to retirement. This increase slowed down after retirement, most prominently for limitations in large muscle functions. Higher SEP was associated with a slower increase of functional limitations prior to retirement. After retirement, a less clear pattern was found as only wealth modified the increase of limitations in mobility functions.

Discussion: Prevention of functional decline in older working adults may be essential in achieving longer and healthier working lives. Such strategies may have to give special consideration to lower SEP adults, as they tend to experience functional health declines prior to retirement at a greater rate than higher SEP adults.

Keywords: Functional health; Large muscles; Limitations; Mobility; Retirement; Socioeconomic position; Transition; United States.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Regression Analysis
  • Retirement*
  • Social Class
  • United States