Linking local labour market conditions across the life course to retirement age: Pathways of health, employment status, occupational class and educational achievement, using 60 years of the 1946 British Birth Cohort

Soc Sci Med. 2019 Apr;226:113-122. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.02.038. Epub 2019 Feb 28.


Several studies have documented that older workers who live in areas with higher unemployment rates are more likely to leave work for health and non-health reasons. Due to tracking of area disadvantage over the life course, and because negative individual health and socioeconomic factors are more likely to develop in individuals from disadvantaged areas, we do not know at what specific ages, and through which specific pathways, area unemployment may be influencing retirement age. Using data from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development, we use structural equation modelling to investigate pathways linking local authority unemployment at three ages (4y, 26y and 53y) to age of retirement (right-censored). We explored five hypothesized pathways: (1) residential tracking, (2) health, (3) employment status, (4) occupational class, and (5) education. Initially, pathways between life course area unemployment, each pathway and retirement age were assessed individually. Mediation pathways were tested in the full model. Our results showed that area unemployment tracked across the life course. Higher area unemployment at ages 4 and 53 were independently associated with earlier retirement age [1% increase = mean -0.64 (95% CI: -1.12, -0.16) and -0.25 (95% CI: -0.43, -0.06) years]. Both were explained by adjustment for individual employment status at ages 26 and 53 years. Higher area unemployment at age 26 was associated with poorer health and lower likelihood of employment at aged 53; and these 2 individual pathways were identified as the key mediators between area unemployment and retirement age. In conclusion, these results suggest that interventions designed to create local employment opportunities for young adults should lead to extended working through improved employment and health at mid-life.

Keywords: Cohort; Employment; Health inequality; Life; Neighbourhood/place; Retirement; Socioeconomic factors; UK.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Educational Status*
  • Employment / standards
  • Employment / trends*
  • England
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Longevity
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retirement / statistics & numerical data
  • Retirement / trends*
  • Social Class
  • Unemployment / statistics & numerical data