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The changing nature of (un-)retirement in Germany: Living conditions, activities and life phases of older adults in transition



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The changing nature of (un-)retirement in Germany:
living conditions, activities and life phases of older
adults in transition
Andreas Mergenthaler, Volker Cihlar, Frank Micheel, and Ines Sackreuther
BiB Working Paper 3/2017
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Recommended Citation:
Mergenthaler, Andreas; Cihlar, Volker; Micheel, Frank; Sackreuther, Ines (2017): The
changing nature of (un-)retirement in Germany: living conditions, activities and life phases
of older adults in transition. BiB Working Papers 3/2017. Wiesbaden: Federal Institute for
Population Research.
Published by:
Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB)
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Editor: Andreas Ette
Layout: Sybille Steinmetz
ISSN: 2196-9574
URN: urn:nbn:de:bib-wp-2017-032
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© Andreas Mergenthaler, Volker Cihlar, Frank Micheel, Ines Sackreuther 2017
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The changing nature of (un-)retirement in Germany: state of research and
conceptual advancements1
In an aging work society, the transition to retirement represents a crucial passage in
status for older adults. The conditions and the forms of the age-related status transition
have changed substantially in Germany over recent decades. Thus, in addition to
“indirect” retirement paths from various forms of non-employment, there is an increasing
tendency to continue paid work beyond the regular retirement age limit. Moreover, older
adults volunteer in civil society and are engaged within the family after retirement. These
activities, together with prolonged labor market participation, form a central dimension
of old age potential that can be a societal as well as an individual benet. The aim of this
paper is to review the current state of research, provide an overview of basic concepts as
well as to advance the discourse on the transition to retirement and the potential of older
people in Germany. One focus is on the labor market participation of older adults, even
beyond the legal retirement age limit. In addition, we emphasize the interaction between
different productive activities with regard to complementary or substitute relationships.
These considerations are united in the concept of unretirement, which complements the
traditional concept of retirement. A modied Rubicon model of action is presented as a
heuristic framework for further empirical research on the labor market participation of
older adults.
Life course, older adults, transition to retirement, post-retirement employment, civic
engagement, family work, Rubicon model of action
Andreas Mergenthaler, Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB), Friedrich-
Ebert-Allee 4, D-65185 Wiesbaden, Germany, Tel.: +49 611 75 2942, E-Mail: andreas.
Volker Cihlar, Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB), Friedrich-Ebert-Allee 4,
D-65185 Wiesbaden, Germany, Tel.: +49 611 75 2279, E-Mail:
Frank Micheel, Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB), Friedrich-Ebert-Allee 4,
D-65185 Wiesbaden, Germany, Tel.: +49 611 75 2445, E-Mail:
Ines Sackreuther, Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB), Friedrich-Ebert-Allee 4,
D-65185 Wiesbaden, Germany, Tel.: +49 611 75 4513, E-Mail: ines.sackreuther@bib.
1 The authors would like to thank Evelyn Grünheid, Sabine Riedl and Faith Ann Gibson for valuable comments
and criticism.
Der Wandel des (Un-)Ruhestands in Deutschland: Stand der Forschung
und konzeptionelle Weiterentwicklungen
In einer Gesellschaft des langen Lebens stellt der Übergang in den Ruhestand für viele äl-
tere Erwachsene eine zentrale Statuspassage dar. Die Bedingungen und die Formen des
Altersübergangs haben sich in den letzten Jahrzehnten in Deutschland gewandelt. So ist
neben „indirekten“ Übergängen aus einer Nichterwerbstätigkeit auch zunehmend eine
fortgeführte Erwerbstätigkeit über die Regelaltersgrenze hinaus zu beobachten. Darüber
hinaus sind ältere Erwachsene auch nach dem Ruhestandseintritt in der Zivilgesellschaft
und der Familie engagiert. Diese Tätigkeiten bilden zusammen mit einer verlängerten
Arbeitsmarktbeteiligung eine zentrale Dimension der Potenziale älterer Erwachsener ab,
die in einer alternden Bevölkerung sowohl von gesellschaftlichem als auch von indi-
viduellem Nutzen sein können. Ziel des Beitrags ist die umfassende Darstellung, die
Zusammenführung und die Weiterentwicklung der Diskurse um den Übergang in den Ru-
hestand und die Potenziale älterer Menschen in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Dabei liegt
ein Schwerpunkt auf der Arbeitsmarktbeteiligung älterer Erwachsener, auch über die Re-
gelaltersgrenze hinaus. Hierzu wird ein Rubikon-Handlungsmodell dargestellt, das als
grundlegender heuristischer Rahmen für weiterführende empirische Forschungsarbeiten
in diesem Bereich dienen kann. Zudem wird die Wechselwirkung zwischen verschiede-
nen „produktiven“ Tätigkeiten im Sinne einer komplementären oder substitutiven Bezie-
hung betont. Diese Überlegungen werden im Konzept des Unruhestands gebündelt, der
den einseitig negativ konnotierten Begriff des Ruhestands ergänzen soll.
Lebenslauf, ältere Erwachsene, Übergang in den Ruhestand, Erwerbstätigkeit,
bürgerschaftliches Engagement, Familienarbeit, Rubikon-Handlungsmodell
1 Trends and consequences of demographic aging in Germany 7
2 The transition to retirement 8
2.1 Approach to a multi-layered phenomenon 8
2.2 What characteristics inuence different retirement transitions? 10
2.2.1 Push and pull factors in retirement research 10
2.2.2 Additional factors inuencing retirement transitions 11
2.2.3 Life course perspective on the transition to retirement 12
3 Formal and informal activities as potentials in older adults 12
3.1 The concept of productive aging 12
3.2 Paid work beyond the legal retirement age 15
3.3 Informal activities in family and civil society 17
3.4 Interaction between productive activities 18
4 Approaches to complement current retirement research 19
4.1 The transition to retirement as a decision-making or action process 20
4.2 The concept of unretirement – a differentiated view 21
4.3 The Rubicon model of participation in post-retirement activities 22
5 Summary and outlook 25
References 27
1 Trends and consequences of demographic aging in Germany
The German population is one of the oldest in the world. In particular, constantly low
birth rates and increasing life expectancy have led to a shift in the age structure towards
an older society (Gärtner et al. 2005; Roloff 1996; Rowland 2009; Schwarz 1997). As a
result, the median age of the German population rose from 37 to 45 years since 1990
(Statistisches Bundesamt 2015). Today, every fth inhabitant of Germany is 65 years
and older (Grünheid/Sulak 2016). Under the heading of “demographic aging,” this
trend and its possible consequences have been recognized and ercely discussed by
demographers, economists, sociologists and gerontologists for several years (e.g. Mai
2003; Birg 2005; Schimany 2003, Straubhaar 2016).1 Increases in the birth rate and
immigration can only slow down this process in the coming decades, but will not stop or
even reverse it2 (Höhn et al. 2008; Pötzsch 2016).
The shift in the age structure is reinforced by the high fertility cohorts in Germany. The
majority of those baby boomers born between 1955 and 1968 are currently in their
working phase of life. From 2020 onwards, these cohorts will gradually reach retirement
age. As a result, the old-age ratio between the 65-year-olds and older per 100 and
persons between the ages of 20 and 64 will increase dramatically between 2020 and
2030. Whereas, in 2013, there were 34 people who were at least 65 years old for every
100 persons in the economically active age groups, according to current population
projections this number will rise to 65 persons in retirement age for every 100 between
20 and 64 years of age in 2060 (Statistisches Bundesamt 2015). This scenario is often
discussed as a challenge for the social security systems in Germany3, in particular for
the pay-as-you-go nanced statutory pension insurance (e.g. Rolf/Wagner 1996; Dietz
2004) and for the health and long-term care insurance (e.g. Ulrich 2003; Ulrich 2005).4
In addition, as a result of the increase in life expectancy, the average duration of statutory
pension payments has increased from ten to 19 years in the last ve decades (Deutsche
Rentenversicherung Bund 2015). In addition to an increase in the population of the
pension age, this ongoing prolongation of the retirement phase can further exacerbate
the pressure exerted by demographic change on the pay-as-you-go nanced pension
system. Against this background, it is not surprising that the demographic transition, as
a synonym for a shrinking and aging society, is mainly linked to negative associations in
public opinion.5
1 The United Nations denes the term “demographic aging” as follows: “Population aging is a process by
which older individuals become a proportionally larger share of the total population.” (United Nations 2002
quoted by Bijak et al. 2007: 3). Similar denitions can also be found in Gee: “...populations are ageing (i.e.
the proportion of their population aged 65 and over is increasing)...” (Gee 2002: 751), Lit: “The term [popula-
tion ageing, A.M.] refers to a steady increase in the percentage of elderly in a country‘s total population from
under 5% to more than 25%.” (Lit 2006: 618) as well as Lloyd-Sherlock: “Demographic ageing (dened as
an increase in the percentage of a population aged 65 years old or over)...” (Lloyd-Sherlock 2000: 888).
2 According to calculations by the Population Division of the United Nations (UN), 3.4 million immigrants
would be required every year to keep the ratio between the population of working age (20 to under 65) and
the 65-year-old and older in Germany constant, which corresponds to a total number of nearly 190 million
people by 2050 (United Nations 2001).
3 Criticism of the discrepancy in the burden on social security systems linked to demographic change is
expressed by Niephaus (2016) and Bäcker et al., 2010.
4 The rate of health expenditure is closely linked to higher age groups, especially the highest age. For example,
the per capita health expenditure for over 85-year-olds in the Federal Republic of Germany is more than twice
as high as for the age group between 65 and 84 years (Ulrich 2005). It therefore seems plausible that the
rise in the population of old and elderly people as a result of demographic change will increasingly affect the
care and health systems of the countries affected in the coming decades. On the basis of model calculations,
assuming constant age-specic health costs, it can be assumed that the aging of the German population
will lead to an increase in overall health-related expenditure by more than 30% within the next 50 years. In
particular, costs will have to be incurred that must be spent on the care of elderly people (Ulrich 2004).
5 An overview of the mostly negative to alarmist headlines on the consequences of the demographic transi-
tion in the German press is provided by Frevel (2004).
And yet old age has changed fundamentally in recent years: on the average, older people
are healthier, better educated, more prosperous and less engaged in childcare due to
more widespread childlessness than previous birth cohorts (Künemund 2006; Aner et al.
2007; Mai 2003; Dorbritz/Schneider 2013). Against this background, the “potentials of
old age” are particularly emphasized in political and academic discussions (e.g. BMFSFJ
2005; Kocka/Staudinger 2010; Kruse/Schmitt 2010; Backes 2008; Backes/Amrhein
2008; Klös/Naegele 2013). From a societal perspective, the extent to which older people
can contribute to intergenerational solidarity is of general interest – and how resources
of older adults, in particular, can be used for politically shaping demographic change. In
this con-text, reference is made not only to the participation of older people in the labor
market, but also to their commitment to civil society as well as to their contribution to
family life.6
At the same time, empirical ndings show that societal conceptions of “standard life
courses” (Kohli 1985) and “normal (occupational) biographies”7 have changed and that
status passages, as socially normed transitions in the life course, have been increasingly
de-standardized or at least “softened” (Sackmann 2007; Scherger 2007). The transitions
between individual phases of life, especially between working life and retirement, are
becoming less xed. Against this background, the question arises as to whether linking
the statutory retirement age with calendar age still reects life realities and the potential
for personal development in the second half of life (Kruse 2010). In addition, little is
known about how the described changes in the contexts of aging – improving the life
situations of the elderly, the model of productive aging, the prolongation of working
life are perceived, reected and valued by the members of society and what action
responses ensue.
This paper is based on several strands of discourse that have arisen with regard to the
extent, dynamics and consequences of the demographic aging process in Germany. The
paper focuses on the transition to retirement, central passage in late adulthood with
important implications for individuals, families and society. The aim is comprehensive
review and conceptual advancement combining different paths of empirical research
and theoretical approaches as a starting point for further research.
2 The transition to retirement
2.1 Approach to a multi-layered phenomenon
Historically-speaking, the social institution of retirement (Atchley 1982), dened as an
age-related withdrawal from working life, usually associated with the receipt of an old-
age pension (Börsch-Supan et al. 2004, Henkens/van Dalen 2013) is a relatively new life
phase that was established in Germany only with the introduction of statutory pension
insurance in the late nineteenth century (e.g. Kohli 1987). Since then, it has dened the
6 This discourse about productivity and competence, however, is also countered by critical voices that warn
against the instrumentalization of older adults and the social stigma of supposedly unproductive older
people if their lives do not correspond to the model of active or productive aging (e.g. van Dyk/Lessenich
2009; van Dyk et al. 2010; Denninger et al. 2014). In the sense of a “happy gerontology,” gerontology is
accused of emphasizing unilaterally positive perspectives on aging and thus of establishing a continuity
between middle and old age (van Dyk 2014). Taken together, both discourse strings implicitly reect the
diversity of aging, not only in terms of mental or physical resources as well as individual life schemes
and forms, but also of different age patterns as well as social inequality in life opportunities (e.g. Kocka/
Staudinger 2010; Backes/Amrhein 2008; Amann/Kolland 2008) as found in various constellations of pro-
ductive activities in early retirement age (Mergenthaler et al. 2015).
7 Dependent full-time employment, which is non-temporary and subject to social insurance, is generally refer-
red to as a normal employment relationship (e.g. Dietz/Walwei 2009; Keller/Seifert 2009; Kurz et al. 2006).
last segment of the three-part life course (after schooling and working; Kohli 1985; Kohli
2007), and thus the beginning of old age, as a distinct life phase (Kohli 2000). It also
helps to regulate the succession between the generations on the labor market and is
therefore a central component of the life course regime as organized by the welfare state
(Kohli 1985; Kohli 1991; Ekerdt 2010). As a vanishing point of the life course in modern
work society, the transition to retirement represents a biographical change that requires
individual adaptation and adjustment (Rosenkoetter/Garris 1998) to a “late freedom”
(Rosenmayr 1989) or even to a “roleless role” (Burgess 1960).
The transition to retirement has been reformed since the 1990s in Germany (Buchholz
et al. 2013; Ebbinghaus 2015) in the context of demographic change and a continually
increasing retirement period since the middle of the twentieth century (Deutsche
Rentenversicherung Bund 2015) to gradually move towards an extension of working life.
This development marks the provisional endpoint of a twofold paradigm shift of German
pension policy (Bäcker et al. 2009). While an early retirement trend was promoted from
the 1970s to the 1990s in order to “make room” for future generations on the labor
market, a reversal of this trend has taken place since the 1990s, one visible sign of which
is the “retirement pension at 67.” A major policy objective in the Lisbon strategy of the
European Union was to increase the employment rates of older workers between 55 and
64 years in the EU Member States to 50% by 2010 (e.g. Annesley 2007). Due to the baby
boomers entering retirement and the ongoing increase in life expectancy (Statistisches
Bundesamt 2015), further social developments and legal adjustments are necessary in
order to regain the scal sustainability of the public pension system. Therefore, in the
coming years, retirement research will gain even more relevance than today.8
What is meant by the term “retirement”? The large number of denitions in the literature
illustrates the fact that retirement is a heterogeneous and therefore an elusive phenomenon:
it refers to an event, a process, a status, a life phase or a role (Marshall 1995; Hardy 2012).
For example, retirement age is determined by the end of the career job, a reduction in the
amount of work, a retirement pension or retirement or self-assessment (Denton/Spencer
2009; Beehr/Bowling 2013; Ekerdt 2009b; Börsch-Supan et al. 2004). As a result of
several pension and labor market reforms introducing “indirect” retirement transitions,
i.e. changes from non-active or unemployed persons to old-age retirement, the pathways
to retirement have become more diverse in Germany (Engstler 2006; Zähle et al. 2009)9.
Scholars therefore speak of a de-institutionalization of the transition to retirement
(Sargent et al. 2013). In addition to the rising trend of early retirement arrangements and
diverse indirect pathways into retirement, a new phenomenon of the blurred line between
work and retirement has been recognized and discussed in retirement research, namely
working in retirement (alternative expressions are “post-retirement work,” “bridge
employment,” “silver work”, “unretirement,” or “re-retirement,” e.g. Wang/Shultz 2010;
Deller/Maxin 2008). This work-retirement pattern has been examined in the USA since
the 1990s (e.g. Ruhm 1990; Beehr/Bennett 2015), whereas in Germany this issue is still
a “young” eld in retirement research (e.g. Hofäcker/Naumann 2015).
These uctuations from work to retirement and back again suggest that there may be
multiple phases of retirement or “unretirement” in the late life course interrupted by
shorter episodes of paid work (Shultz/Wang 2011). These ndings underline the fact that
the transition to retirement is less an on/off event than a process that can span several
years and can be circular (Beehr 1986; Feldman 1994; Pleau 2010). As a result of these
diverse paths, modern retirement research conceives this transition as a multi-stage
decision-making process with different inuencing factors that takes place over a certain
period of time; it begins with a preparatory phase and ends with an adaptation process
in the post-work phase (Shultz/Wang 2011). Post-retirement work can be seen as one
8 With regard to the USA, Zhan et al. (2009) as well as Wang and Shultz (2010) come up with a similar prognosis.
9 However, on the basis of a sample from the German pension insurance it was shown that the share of direct
retirement transfers increased again by 2010 (Brussig 2012). This could indicate a reversal in the trend of a
rising share of indirect transfers to retirement.
characterizing signal (among others, such as a large variety of ways of life or household
constellations) within the fuzzier life phase called the “midcourse-phase” in this process
(Moen 2003).10
Against the background of the concepts discussed in the recent discourse, we dene
the retirement transition as a process of indefinite duration comprising individual plans,
decisions and actions as well as individual and social reconciliation and adaptation
processes with the aim of implementing age-related withdrawal from employment.
Retirement is dened in this paper as a period of life characterized by a relatively fixed entry
age (statutory retirement age), which is accompanied by income from a retirement annuity
or pension from one’s own employment during earlier life stages and by disengagement
from social or economically productive activities, in particular employment.
2.2 What characteristics influence different retirement transitions?
2.2.1 Push and pull factors in retirement research
For the analysis of the transition to retirement – in particular early retirement but also
in the case of continued employment beyond the statutory retirement age – the so-
called “push and pull” factors are often cited as inuencing variables (Ebbinghaus
2006; Ekerdt 2009b; Radl 2007; Shultz et al. 1998). According to this approach, the
older adult is drawn into retirement by attractive conditions (pull factors), for example
nancial incentives from the retirement insurance systems but also the pursuit of non-
professional interests in retirement (Ekerdt 2009b; Shultz et al. 1998). Examples of pull
factors that draw the individual into continued employment beyond statutory retirement
age are the non-economic benets of work, such as the feeling of being needed, shared
experiences, commitment to the profession or maintenance of social contacts (Barnes
et al. 2004; Wang et al. 2014).
Push factors, on the other hand, emphasize unfavorable labor market conditions such
as lower demand for older workers or company reorganization strategies resulting in
above-average layoffs of older workers as well as personal factors such as health
problems (Radl 2007; Shultz et al. 1998). Regarding continued employment beyond the
legal age limit, push factors would be the economic situation in retirement age, such
as inadequate pensions due to interrupted earning biographies but also contextual
inuences such as non-simultaneity in the retirement of life partners or occupational
group-specic normative expectations of longer employment. In addition, human
capital and employment opportunities are highly important for enabling employment
beyond the legal retirement age limit. Since these factors are unequally distributed
across different individuals and contexts (Scherger 2011), they can be both push and
pull factors. Finally, it should be borne in mind that although push and pull factors are
often associated with the (lack of) freedom regarding individual decision-making (Shultz
et al. 1998), they represent the extremes of a spectrum along complex and sometimes
ambivalent constellations of inuences on the willingness to continue employment.
Both types of inuencing factors can be linked to one another in the context of a life course
perspective (Radl 2007). In addition to economic or health constraints, there are also a
variety of individual motives concerning the age transition such as family obligations
(e.g. care of relatives), interdependent retirement decisions in the partnership context
or previous unemployment (Ho/Raymo 2009; Schneider et al. 2001). Moreover, life
course approaches also refer to the normative dimension of legal age limits. Thus social
expectations and institutionalized normality correlations are combined with the social
10 In addition, the transition to retirement plays an important role in the concept of the third age, since it usually
coincides with the beginning of this part of life and then typically ends with emerging age-related health
restrictions, which lead to the need for assistance from other persons (Carr/Comp 2011; Weiss/Bass 2002;
Laslett 1987).
policy requirement of an age of 65 years (Jansen 2013; Radl 2012a). In this respect,
it can be assumed that for many employees, the widespread use of early retirement
schemes between the 1970s and 1990s evolved to become a normative expectation as
well as a perceived social entitlement (Ekerdt 2009b; Scherger 2011).
An explanation of the subjective willingness to extend working life depends on whether
the inuencing factors identied in the literature on early retirement (Bäcker et al.
2009; Radl 2007) can be fully adopted.11 Abandoning these specic factors pushing
or pulling one into early retirement can only result in retiring “on time” (in accordance
to the legal retirement age), as labor contracts in Germany usually end along with this
legal framework (Bertelsmann 2010; Hofäcker/Unt 2013; Hokema/Lux 2015). The
missing link in this context is primarily associated with psychological aspects such as
attitudes towards the relationship between work and (post-)retirement, the need for
personal continuity, or anxiety about retirement reecting its typical approach-avoidance
conict (e.g. Bonsdorff/Ilmarinen 2013; Fasbender et al. 2014; Newman et al. 2013).
Nevertheless, in a life course perspective, the analytical distinction between push and
pull factors is still a reasonable conceptual basis to systematize possible factors of
inuence on the willingness to extend employment beyond legal retirement age. Which
factors individuals perceive as push or pull factors depends on their respective context
such as (un-)favorable labor market conditions, family obligations, individual resources
and socio-economic status (Radl 2012b; Shultz et al. 1998).
2.2.2 Additional factors influencing retirement transitions
In addition to institutional regulations and conditions within a company (e.g. statutory
pension insurance or age climate), the process of retirement also involves individual
skills, personality traits and decisions, family obligations (e.g. the care of a dependent
relative), as well as social structural and economic characteristics, like accumulated
nancial resources, occupational position or human capital (Adams 1999; Beehr et al.,
2000; Scherger, 2013). Recent studies from Germany indicate that retirement transitions
differed, among other things, according to the level of formal education (Radl 2007;
Engstler/Romeu Gordo 2014).
Additionally, the working atmosphere and cultural patterns manifested in personal or
socially shared notions of aging (Wurm/Huxhold 2012; Pichler 2010, BMFSFJ 2010) are
also important for shaping the transition to retirement or the continuation of employment
(Jansen 2013; Ernsting et al., 2013). This concept is described as ”... notions of old age
as a life phase, of the process of aging and as ideas about the elderly” (Rossow 2012).
Notions of aging reect socially prevalent concepts of “normal” aging. The notions
of aging in a society therefore also need to be understood against the background of
(symbolic) power relationships. Such models not only reect the social climate, but also
contribute to the social structure of life segments and transitions (Pichler 2010).
Gender also inuences transitions into retirement. Thus, due to increasing labor
participation of women in Western Germany (the new federal states already had a very
high rate of working women as a “legacy” of the former labor market conditions in the
German Democratic Republic) the process of retirement in female life courses is becoming
increasingly important. However, the employment biographies of men and women differ
markedly, for example with regard to the higher proportion of women employed as
parttime employees. In retirement research, a “gender lens on aging” (Venn et al. 2012;
Lasch et al. 2006) therefore marks a desideratum for women. Retirement research has
so far concentrated on the retirement of men (Radl 2007). Empirical research on “typical
female” retirement transitions in (Western) Germany underline the importance of this
issue. In line with the conservative view of different labor market participation by the
11 For example, a poor state of health is likely to lead to early retirement. On the other hand, a (very) good state
of health is not a guarantee of extended working life since it is conceivable that an individual might like to
quit working and enjoy retirement, especially if their state of health is good (e.g. Micheel et al. 2010).
genders (Hofäcker et al. 2013; Meyer/Pfau-Efnger 2006; Pfau-Efnger 2004), female
retirees in (Western) Germany typically exhibit career paths with interruptions of gainful
employment due to childbearing and childrearing. Additionally, when returning to work,
many women tend to work part time. Therefore, it is not surprising that these career paths
result in lower incomes and nally to lower pensions compared to men (Allmendinger
1990; Fasang et al. 2013; Hank/Korbmacher 2012). Younger cohorts of women today
have a stronger attachment to paid work, as indicated by higher employment rates
compared to older cohorts, but still less than their male counterparts (e.g. Fitzenberger
et al. 2004). This labor market trend begs the question of whether the current political
focus, and therefore research focus, on male careers is still relevant.
2.2.3 Life course perspective on the transition to retirement
The timing, the duration and the form of a transition to retirement, as well as the
distribution of resources and potentials in this phase of life, are dependent on the course
of earlier life phases (Klös/Naegele, 2013; Elder 1994; Elder 1985). The investigation of
transitions and potentials in the later stages of life can thus not be exclusively related
to these, but should take the entire life course, at least the earlier employment phase or
biography, into view. For this reason, the life course perspective is a basic approach in
aging and retirement research (Marshall/Bengtson 2012; Silverstein/Giarrusso 2012).
In this context, the concept of “linked lives” (Elder 1995), which explicitly takes account
of the partnership context in retirement planning and decision-making, plays an essential
role. This concept, which is central to the life course approach, assumes that people‘s life
courses are interlinked by social relations (Elder 1994). Life courses and paths as well
as the transitions between different segments of life can only be understood through the
interaction of the affected persons with other people, whether family members, friends
or colleagues (Huinink 2009). Transitions in a person‘s life often result in transitions for
other people, such as when a working couple decides to enter retirement together (Ho/
Raymo, 2009; Elder et al. 2003).
In summary, current research on retirement reveals gaps in (1) the description of the
retirement process, (2) the interaction between individual and contextual inuences with
regard to the beginning, form and duration of the transition, (3) the consequences of
voluntary or involuntary forms and (4) the importance of retirement as a further career
segment in cases of prolonged labor market participation (Wang/Shultz 2010). On the
one hand, these research gaps indicate the importance of individual decision-making and
action as a theoretical foundation for current retirement research. On the other hand, they
emphasize interactions of individual decision-making, coping and adaptation processes
with social and contextual characteristics (e.g. partners or employers). It can thus be
concluded that a dynamic multi-level approach would be helpful for the conceptual
development of retirement research in order to merge the separate discourse strands.
3 Formal and informal activities as potentials in older adults
3.1 The concept of productive aging
The term “productive aging” has a long tradition in social gerontology dating back to
the 1980s when it was rst used by Robert N. Butler (Butler/Gleason 1985; Bass/Caro
2001; Achenbaum 2001). The origin of the concept of “productive aging” lies in the
discourse on generational equality in the USA (Moody 2001). The concept was initially
developed as a counter-concept to ageism in order to overcome negative stereotypes
about older people and to emphasize that it is both, the responsibility of society and the
individual to support the realization of the potential of aging (Taylor/Bengtson 2001;
Hinterlong et al. 2001). The model of productive aging emerged against this background
and as a response to the discrepancy between increasing individual capacities and the
availability of institutionalized productive roles for the elderly. Advocates of productive
aging question the assumption that the majority of older adults are no longer able to
contribute to the common good and are merely consumers of resources (Hinterlong
et al. 2001). The concept sees higher age as a time of personal growth and social and
economic contribution. The emphasis is thus on the performance of older people and
a “need to be needed” as a way of assessing higher age. Productive aging emphasizes
generativity as a superior value throughout the entire life course. Generativity means
that relationships between older and younger generations create a productive context
for both; the younger generation benetting from the experience and education of the
older generation, the older generation receiving a context in which their values and
cultural identity can be preserved (Lang/Baltes 1997). Moreover, caring for upcoming
generations fullls the desire for symbolic immortality and the feeling of being needed
(McAdams/de St. Aubin 1992). The focus of the discourse on productive aging is
usually economic: both monetary and non-monetary aspects of social exchange and the
reduction of age-related dependency play central roles (Moody 2001). The concept of
productive aging postulates that older persons should be engaged in a way that benets
other people, and, in exchange, that society, the economy and politics should provide or
expand options for it. This demonstrates that the core is a normative theory that implies
a corresponding policy or program (Sherraden et al. 2001).
There are different denitions of this concept and its underlying dimensions in the
literature (Bass 2011).12 In addition to productive activities, the latter also consider
those who create the individual conditions for them, such as physical activity (Caro et al.
1993, Herzog 1989). In the following, we refer to a wider denition of “productivity” that
includes any activity that produces goods or services, regardless of whether it is paid or
not (Bass/Caro 2001).13 According to the third-person criterion, these are marketable
activities that could also be provided by third parties (Hawrylyshyn 1977). According
to this denition, productive activities refer not only to forms of employment, but also
to civic engagement, which includes formal volunteering as well as informal assistance
(Hank/Erlinghagen 2010) or civil society participation (Burr et al. 2002; Martinson/
Minkler 2006) as well as support within one‘s own family14, such as childcare or caring
for a sick or disabled relative (Wija/Ferreira 2012; Caro/Bass 1995).15
Like the concept of successful aging16, the concept of productive aging links the nal
phase of life with a positive value that is in contrast to age stereotypes, which essentially
12 O’Reily and Caro (1995) provide an overview of early but still valid denitions of the concept.
13 From an economic perspective, only those activities that are offered on the (labor) market for payment and
thus contribute to the gross social product (Fernández-Ballesteros et al. 2011) would be dened as pro-
ductive. Such a narrow denition excludes activities that are of social benet but are unpaid or voluntary.
14 In addition to these basic dimensions of productive aging, the literature also mentions career-related or
personal education as well as self-realization and wisdom as further categories (Bass/Caro 2001; Sherraden
et al. 2001).
15 This concept of “productive aging” is also based on the fth and sixth edition of the old-age reports of the Fe-
deral Government of Germany. Under the title “potentials of old age,” the productive activities of older people
and their future development possibilities are seen as essential components of a strategy for dealing with the
challenges of demographic change (BMFSFJ 2005; in a critical perspective see for example, Denninger et al.
16 The concept of successful aging, which is widespread in social gerontology, was introduced into the dis-
course by (Rowe/Kahn 1997). Although it is currently the dominant conceptual approach to aging research,
it has often been discussed critically in the literature (for an up-to-date overview, see Martinson/Berridge
2015). For example, according to Liang/Luo 2012, the concept negates the higher age of life by propagating
“agelessness”. The discourse on successful aging is based on the assumption that the ability to remain
young and active is the key to “good” aging. Another criticism is related to the proximity of the concept
to neo-liberal approaches, which also emphasize individual responsibility for a successful life (Rubinstein/
Medeiros 2015).
associate aging with passivity and loss of function (Moody 2001).17 In contrast to the
concept of successful aging, which largely ignores the social structure or the macro-social
context of individual aging and focuses on individual physiological and psychological
capacities and abilities, the concept of productive aging is, however, more strongly
related to economic and sociological theories (e.g. social constructivism, exchange
theories, life course perspective or critical theory). In contrast to the social psycho-
oriented concepts of activity or disability management, productive aging is about the
role and the contribution that older people can make to the functioning of societies and
the reduction of barriers to the productive participation of older adults (Taylor/Bengtson
2001; Caro et al. 1993; Bass/Caro 2001). In summary, there are several aspects that
can be used to enrich gerontology through the concept of productive aging: (1) The term
“productive” reects a positive perspective on human aging, (2) productive aging offers
the possibility of quantifying the contributions of older people, (3) there may be a greater
interface between theory and intervention approaches in gerontological practice and
policy when productive aging is used as a heuristic or theoretical framework and (4) the
perspective is less individualistic than the concept of successful aging (Taylor/Bengtson
Nevertheless, several conceptual and theoretical questions about productive aging
remain to be explored (e.g. Sherraden et al. 2001). Theoretical contributions are,
however, important for the future development of the concept of productive aging in
order to classify the ever-increasing empirical ndings and to derive recommendations
for political practice from this (Taylor/Bengtson 2001). For this, middle range theories
are available from which empirical questions can be derived (Sherraden et al. 2001).
In order to bundle known inuencing factors of productive activities in the higher adult
age, Caro and Bass (2001) developed a conceptual framework for productive aging,
which covers the levels of social policy, environment, situation, individual and individual
conditions. It is thus a multi-level model that represents the micro- (individual), meso-
(situation) and macro-levels (environment, social policy) and their relationships to
each other. A similar model is formulated by Sherraden et al. (2001). In this heuristic
model, the dimensions of politics, socio-demography, individual capacity, institutional
capacity, productive activities and certain individual states (e.g. health, partnership
satisfaction) are related. Although social contexts are explicitly taken into account, the
authors emphasize that the level of action or the level of individual decision-making is
central to the concept of productive aging (Sherraden et al. 2001). However, Sherraden
et al. (2001) did not derive an action model or differentiate between decision-making or
action phases. There is thus still a considerable need on the micro level for conceptual
and theoretical further development of existing approaches.
Even if representatives of the concept of productive aging refer to social and societal
contexts more strongly than is the case with other gerontological approaches, social
inequality of life chances and resources is only conceptualized at a marginal level
(Künemund 2006). However, social inequalities in resources across the life course play
an essential role in exploring the potential and productive activities in late adult age
(Backes/Amrhein 2008). These can lead to strong differences between social groups in
resources and activities in the form of an accumulation of advantages or disadvantages
over the life course (Dannefer 2003; Ferraro et al. 2009). Such unequal social conditions
inuence the likelihood and the motives for the reception or continuation of an activity
in retirement age, for example, when precarious living conditions in retirement make
it necessary to engage in paid work in order to escape poverty (Hochfellner/Burkert
2013; Brussig 2009). In addition to individual, familial and institutional characteristics,
the socioeconomic living conditions of older people thus have a signicant potential
for explaining everyday life in the transition to retirement, which has so far rarely been
17 Both successful and productive aging are based to a certain extent on activity theory, which assumes
that activity fosters life satisfaction, and the continuity thesis, which assumes that basic activity patterns
remain stable even during the adaptation of humans to their own aging (Johnson/Mutchler 2014).
empirically investigated in German-language aging and retirement research (Clemens
2008). Reducing this gap is an essential prerequisite for a representative description
and assessment of the potential of older people.
In addition to the advantages of the model of productive aging, there are also a number of
critical aspects that make dealing with this approach more difcult, such as a normative
concept of “busy ethic” (e.g. Ekerdt 2009a) that is likely to stigmatize “unproductive”
ways of aging. Therefore, the underlying assumptions should always be thoroughly
explained in order to avoid ambiguous meanings of the term. Insofar, productive aging
is a uid concept whose denitions vary according to context. The macroeconomic and
historical contexts in which productive activities of older people are embedded are
rarely taken into account by research. Furthermore, the perspective of productive aging
has parallels with general social or aging theories (e.g. disengagement) that seek both
micro- and macro-level explanations. Therefore, there is a risk that the approach gets
lost in claiming to be a holistic explanation of human aging that cannot be empirically
explained (Taylor/Bengtson 2001). In order to circumvent the normative implications18
of the concept, some authors also suggest that instead of the term “productive aging”
one should speak of productivity at a higher age, since this concept allows for a more
empirical approach. Moreover, the competition with other concepts such as that of
successful aging is bypassed and it does not include an explicit evaluation (Morrow-
Howell et al. 2001).
3.2 Paid work beyond the legal retirement age
Employment after reaching retirement age has become more important in Germany in
recent years (Hofäcker/Naumann 2015). The rst empirical studies on this phenomenon
are from the 1990s (e.g. Kohli et al. 1993; Wachtler/Wagner 1997).19 Since the beginning
of this millennium, there has been a steady increase in employment beyond the legal
retirement age in Germany (Deller/Pundt 2014; Hofäcker/Naumann 2015; Scherger
2015). This increase is not merely an effect of advancing demographic aging as a result
of ever-increasing numbers of the population reaching retirement age. Additionally,
altered employment behavior of older adults plays an important role in explaining this
phenomenon (Micheel/Panova, 2013).
“Pensioner‘s work” (Wachtler/Wagner 1997) is mostly parttime work, which means the
amount of weekly working hours is generally up to a maximum of 30 hours. Furthermore,
such activities are usually carried out only for a relatively short period of time after
reaching retirement age (Dorbritz/Micheel 2010; Lippke et al. 2015; Scherger et al 2012;
Hokema/Lux 2015). Compared to dependent employees, self-employed and assisting
family members are clearly overrepresented among the labor force in retirement age
(Deller/Maxin 2009; Maxin/Deller 2010; Scherger 2013).
The inuence of individual, socioeconomic and occupational characteristics on the
likelihood of continuation of employment beyond the legal retirement age was empirically
investigated by several studies in Germany.20 The employment rate shows a steep decline
18 The normative meaning of productivity in modern market-economy societies can be summed up by the
following quotation: “The opposite of the term productivity implies ‘unproductivity’ or ‘laziness’ which in
our capitalist society means ‘failure’” (Taylor/Bengtson 2001: 138).
19 In contrast, “bridge employment” has been the subject of scientic studies for a long time in Anglo-Ameri-
can economies. This form of employment is a widespread transitional path to retirement particularly in the
United States (e.g. Ruhm 1990; Giandrea et al. 2009; Beehr/Bennett 2015).
20 Regarding the willingness to continue employment in pension age, several factors can be distinguished
(Scherger 2011; Wang et al. 2014): (1) the individual economic situation of a person in retirement age,
(2) their human capital (education, health, etc.); (3) specic employment opportunities and conditions
(e.g. occupational age climate, exible working forms), (4) the non-economic benets of labor, (5) further
contextual characteristics (e.g. family situation, social age patterns), and (6) psychological factors such as
the ve main dimensions of the personality (so-called Big Five).
after the age of 65 (Deller/Maxin 2009; Scherger 2013). Unequal access of women and
men to the labor market continues to exist even after the transition period has been
reached. Thus, men also show a signicantly higher employment rate than women in
the age group 65 years and older (Hochfellner/Burkert 2013; Scherger 2013; Hofäcker/
Naumann 2015, Micheel/Panova 2013; Cihlar et al. 2014). One’s former professional class
before retirement age also inuences the chance of continued employment: members
of the upper class (for example, scientic professions, managers) are more active than
members of lower professional classes, such as non-executive employees and workers as
well as unskilled or semi-skilled workers. In addition, divorced or separated people are
more likely to work during retirement age than people living in a partnership (Scherger
2013). Western German retirees show a higher employment rate than pensioners from
Eastern Germany (Hofäcker/Naumann 2015). This distribution reects the unequal
labor market opportunities and structural differences still existing between Western and
Eastern Germany (Scherger 2013). In addition, good health promotes the continuation of
employment beyond the legal retirement age (Deller/Maxin 2009; Scherger 2013).21
The present ndings on the link between the nancial situation of older adults and
retirement are not clear. Studies report an inverse association – the lower the household
income, the higher the chance of employment in retirement age (Deller/Maxin 2009) as
well as a positive relation (Scherger 2013). An inverse association between continued
employment in retirement age and the “Engeltpunkte” (earning points) that determine
the amount of German pension insurance was observed in a sample of autochthonous
Germans while a positive association could be shown for older immigrants (Hochfellner/
Burkert 2013). Another study noted that retirees from households with debts worked
more often than older people without debts (Scherger 2013). Results of evaluations of
the German Ageing Survey (DEAS) point to a U-shaped relationship between the formal
education level and the probability of earning in the pension age in the 2000s that was not
observed during the 1980s or 1990s. This trend indicates that in the 2000s both people
with lower and higher educational levels exhibited higher employment rates compared
to average educational levels (Hofäcker/Naumann 2015). Operational characteristics
or organizational framework conditions also have an effect on retirement. For example,
ndings indicate the importance of exibility and corresponding offers on the part of the
employer (Deller/Maxin 2009). The nature of the transition to retirement also inuences
the likelihood of continued employment beyond retirement age. For example, a period
of non-employment before retirement reduces the chance of continued labor market
participation (Hochfellner/Burkert 2013).
The present empirical ndings from Germany show that paid employment beyond legal
retirement age is a current and relevant phenomenon. However, almost only descriptive
ndings or exploratory analyses are available. With the exception of heuristics for the
systematization22 of inuencing factors (Scherger et al. 2012; Scherger 2015), theoretical
approaches to interpreting the present empirical ndings and as the basis for further
studies are scarce in German-language sociological research. In German-language
psychological research, several theoretical frameworks regarding post-retirement work
have been examined, such as work motivation (Maxin/Deller 2010), the approach/
avoidance conict (Fasbender et al. 2014) and generativity (Fasbender et al. 2016).
21 Since these ndings are based on cross-sectional data, no statements can be made about causality. Thus,
good health can also have a selective impact on the labor market participation of retirees, meaning older
people are consciously withdrawing from the labor market because of good health in order to achieve other
life goals.
22 This heuristic systematization is derived from a theoretical two-stage selection process on the post-reti-
rement labor market (Hardy 1991): the rst stage is characterized by a self-selection process within the
retiree group yielding a group of retirees with a pronounced will to work in retirement. This step is crucial for
this approach, as retirees, particularly in Germany, are “normally” expected not to participate in paid work
(Freter et al. 1988, Kohli 1987; Scherger et al. 2012). The second stage is dened by the economic principle
of supply and demand on the labor markets, which applies to both persons of employable age and people
of retirement age. Here, the research focus lies on the competition between these two groups seeking work.
3.3 Informal activities in family and civil society
Recent approaches that dene retirement on the basis of activities focus not only on
paid work but also on informal activities, such as civic engagement or support services
within the family (Aleksandrowicz et al. 2010; Denton/Spencer 2009). Informal activities
are dened as work for which no wage or compensation is paid and for which therefore
no taxes or social security contributions are paid (Hank/Erlinghagen 2008). However,
informal activities might also generate a prot that can be measured economically, at
least as an equivalent (Hawrylyshyn 1977).
In addition to volunteering, the forms of civic engagement of older people include
neighborhood or network assistance. These forms of commitment take place outside
their own household. In general, volunteering is linked to an organization, institution or
non-prot organization, and to exercising a specic function or task or a specic ofce.
Neighborhood and network assistance, on the other hand, take place without such
connections and are of a more private nature. They include all support services by older
people (e.g. household help, shopping, cleaning or minor repairs) for neighbors or friends
who live outside their own household (e.g. Künemund 2005; Hank/Erlinghagen 2008).
Family commitments are dened as all supporting activities carried out within one‘s
own household or one‘s own family. Two forms of family involvement are especially
important: childcare as well as nursing or other care and supportive services. Since
the family and the interrelated generations embedded in it are directly affected by the
consequences of social and population change (Dorbritz/Schneider 2013; Mahne/Klaus
2017), familial commitment is an important aspect of productive aging. Families have
changed fundamentally in recent decades. Thus the generations may live together longer
than ever before due to the life extension process, which partly compensates for late
childbearing age. As a result, the three-generation family currently represents the typical
familial-generational constellation in Germany (Grünheid/Scharein 2011). However, the
low birth rate affects the number of relatives per generation, which is decreasing. The
development of such “bean families” (Bengtson et al. 1990) has the effect of altering
the opportunities for family support between generations, both young and old, as well
as from old to young in the course of demographic change. This also means that in the
future there will be an increasing number of older people who cannot rely on the support
of their own children or grandchildren if they are childless or if job mobility requirements
make regular contact more difcult (Dorbritz/Schneider 2013).
Regarding civic engagement, empirical ndings show that it is inuenced by institutional
and socio-cultural frameworks. Moreover, resource allocation of individuals with human,
social and cultural capital, basic demographic variables and individual life histories also
plays an important role (Wilson/Musick 1997a; Wilson 2000). Compared to non-committed
persons, civic-oriented individuals can generally be described as more educated, healthier,
more often married and with higher incomes and stronger religious orientation (Choi 2003;
Wilson 2000; Wilson/Musick 1997a). Although voluntary commitment is more widespread
among younger age groups, a sustained and signicant increase in the commitment rate
(BMFSFJ 2010) has been seen among older adults, especially among 60- to 69-year-olds
since 1999. Regarding the inuence of individual life courses, in a number of studies,
Erlinghagen (2008: 95) refers to the distinction “…between the short-term effect of singular
life events such as the marriage, divorce, death of the partner or the birth of a child [...]
and the long-term effect of past experiences, such as socialization in the family [...] or the
cultural imprint of entire birth cohorts.” An example of the effect of previous experiences
can be found in Mutchler, Burr, Caro (2003; see also Lancee/Radl, 2014; Maas/Staudinger
2010). The authors show that previous engagement is a strong and signicant predictor
of formal volunteering and informal help. Individual life events also inuence individual
commitment. For example, the death of the spouse leads to an increase in informal social
participation in widowed women and men (Utz et al. 2002).
Individual resources and institutional frameworks also play an important role in
participation in family work (e.g. Hank/Stuck 2008; Ruckdeschel/Ette 2010; Eichler et al.
2008). However, care and nursing care within the family are largely dependent on the
respective needs and obligations, that is, on the extent to which children or persons in
the family are present who need care (Cihlar/Mergenthaler 2016). Another special feature
that plays an important role in nursing care is a person’s extent of moral commitment and
self-determination. As the name suggests, formal volunteering activities are generally
based on a voluntary decision – no one is forced into volunteering (analogous to political
involvement, see Verba et al. 1995). On the other hand, care is often of a compulsory
nature, since the person needing nursing is often a close relative of a family member who
feels obliged to care for them (for example, married couples; Eichler/Pfau-Efnger 2008).
3.4 Interaction between productive activities
In most empirical studies, productive activities in older adulthood are presented
as independent phenomena (e.g. Künemund 2006). This perspective neglects the
interactions that can occur between productive activities in different spheres of life and
that are signicant for assessing the “potential” of older adults. Older people are engaged
in the labor market, family and civil society at different times. The temporal scope ranges
from relatively spontaneous, short-term activities to daily routine acts, which can take
up several hours a day. In order to draw a comprehensive picture of the commitment of
older adults, it is important to consider several productive activities simultaneously and
in relation to each other.
Only in recent years, empirical studies on the association between several productive
activities in the late adult age have been conducted. Based on the existing evidence
on the interdependence of productive activities (Choi et al., 2007; Burr et al., 2005;
Mutchler et al. 2003), some studies also indicate that these activities form distinct
groups or types within certain age groups in the second half of life (Burr et al. 2007;
Morrow-Howell et al. 2011; Morrow-Howell et al. 2014). These studies concluded that
productive activities such as paid work, voluntary work, informal assistance and care for
older age groups are distinguishable types at the individual level. An analysis based on
the Americans‘ Changing Lives Survey (ACL) identied four groups of productive activities
(Helper, Home Maintainers, Workers/Volunteers and Super Helpers) in the 55-year-old
age group (Burr et al. 2007). Similar ndings were reported using a latent class analysis
of the American Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which identied ve activity proles
of older adults, which differed by type and scope of activities: low activity, moderate
activity, high activity, employment and physical (Morrow-Howell et al. 2014).
Other empirical studies on the formal and informal activities of older adults have shown
that the amount of resources available to a person (e.g. degree of formal education) as
well as socio-demographic characteristics (e.g. sex or region of living) and social context
play important roles in explaining commitment (Hank/Erlinghagen 2008; Wilson 2000;
Wilson/Musick 1997a). With regard to the interdependency of productive activities,
empirical studies show that individual (e.g. health, education), family and economic
resources are positively associated with activity proles showing a higher level of
productive activities (Burr et al. 2007; Morrow-Howell et al., 2014). In addition, there is
evidence of the inuence of socio-demographic characteristics. As people grow older,
participation in groups that is primarily characterized by activities outside their own
households decreases while it grows in groups with activities within their own households.
Furthermore, older women are often found in activity proles characterized by family or
household-related activities (Burr et al. 2007).
In order to describe and interpret the groups, not only the type of the productive activities
is important, but also the patterns of the relations between these activities. As for the
types of activity, a distinction can be made between obligatory (e.g. care of a sick relative)
and voluntary activities (e.g. civic engagement). The interrelationship between these two
types of productive activities can be complementary or substitutive (Burr et al. 2007; Choi
et al. 2007). A complementary relationship implies that, in the case of a person working
in one area, the likelihood of being engaged in another area of activity is higher than in a
person who is not engaged in a productive activity. In contrast, the probability of further
productive activity in a substitutive relationship is lower. This distinction corresponds
to the assumptions of the role theory, in particular the concepts of role extension
(complementary relationship between productive activities) and role substitution or role
overload (substitutive relationship between productive activities). The role extension
hypothesis assumes that involvement in several productive activities is likely, as larger
social networks offer the opportunity to engage in more than one activity. The results
of several empirical studies support the assumptions of this hypothesis. For example,
for selected European countries Hank and Stuck (2008) observed a complementary
relationship between productive activities (voluntary commitment, informal assistance
and caregiving). This relationship has been found in both mandatory and voluntary
activities. A complementary relationship between voluntary engagement and numerous
other areas of activity (e.g. adult education, leisure and cultural activity) was reported
in a recent study of 65 to 80-year-olds from Belgium (Dury et al. 2016). Burr, Mutchler,
and Carro (2005) report a complementary relationship between caregiving and voluntary
commitment among 50-year-olds and senior citizens of the Americans’ Changing Lives
Survey (ACL). Even if the results of empirical studies on the link between paid work and
voluntary engagement of older people are mixed, there is also evidence suggesting a
complementary relationship between these two areas of activity (Dosman et al. 2006).
Wilson and Musick (1997b) assume that jobs that require autonomy and personal
initiative encourage older people to volunteer in civil society, as both activities are based
on similar skills. In addition, paid work in retirement as well as civic engagement can be
understood as a voluntary or optional activity, which is at least partly based on individual
preferences (Burr et al. 2007), although nancial necessities or normative expectations
cannot be entirely ruled out as motives (Wilson/Musick 1997b).
In contrast to the role extension hypothesis, the role substitution or role overload
hypothesis argues that there is a competitive relationship between productive activities.
Fulltime care and employment are time-consuming activities that might result in physical
or mental stress (Choi et al. 2007; Burr et al. 2007). Since familial engagement is founded
on social norms, which are more or less of an obligatory nature, they leave the individual a
certain scope of choice. Caring for relatives and for one’s own children and grandchildren
can therefore be seen as compulsory activities. With few exceptions (e.g. Burr et al. 2005),
empirical studies have shown that compulsory activities are in competition with voluntary
activities such as citizenship (Burr et al. 2007; Choi et al. 2007). Therefore, at least some
of the empirical ndings support the role substitution hypothesis.
4 Approaches to complement current retirement research
Building on the current state of research outlined in the previous sections, approaches
for further retirement and transition research can be identied. One central aspect is the
dynamics of retirement or labor market participation while at the same time receiving an
old-age pension (i.e. post-retirement work or bridge employment). Thus the transition to
retirement at the personal level often takes on the form of a process, which comprises
a temporal and logical sequence of preference, intention and action. Thus, it is not
automatically an abrupt change of two discrete, mutually exclusive states – work and
retirement (Beehr 1986; Feldman 1994). Individual decision-making and commitment to
one’s current occupation play an important role in explaining the transition process. The
approaches converge in the concept of unretirement, which differs from the traditional
notion of retirement as a retreat from social and economic life in that it involves the
continuation of productive engagement in one or more domains of later life.
4.1 The transition to retirement as a decision-making or action process
It can be assumed that the phenomenon of “employment in retirement” is also subject to
a process, beginning with a rather undened notion, then to the very concrete action and
its subsequent evaluation. This basic idea is elaborated in Feldman and Beehr (2011)
and further developed with recourse to various psychological theories such as image
theory, social identity theory or career stage theory. The retirement process is presented
as a three-phase model in which future, past and present-oriented considerations
alternate. These phases may well overlap. An essential characteristic of the rst phase
is an individual and rather vague idea of one’s future retirement. In the second phase,
the individual reects what has been achieved in his or her professional career and how
he or she assesses “letting go” of their professional role in the upcoming transition to
retirement. The last phase relates to the present, when retirement plans are implemented
(Feldman/Beehr 2011). The rise of different theories to explain the different phases
underlines the fact that the retirement process is a multivariate phenomenon. A major
critical objection, however, is that the empirical observation of this concept is not
consistent, since this diversity of theories is based on different, sometimes contradictory
assumptions (e.g. regarding continuity versus disengagement or self-interested versus
socially related behavior). Another general concern is with the violation of the “law of
parsimony” (also known as Occam’s razor), which leads to a vast amount of theories and
approaches that cannot be incorporated into empirical research in a satisfactory way. As
a result, testing these theories with empirical data can support anything and nothing at
the same time. In summary, what is needed is a unied, consistent theory that describes
and explains the unretirement process along with an individual time perspective and
that is embedded in social and structural contexts.
The research from the recent past deals with three phases of the entire action process,
which are, however, considered in isolation: (1) willingness / intention (e.g. Micheel
et al. 2010; Büsch et al. 2010), (2) retirement planning (e.g. Wöhrmann et al. 2013) and
(3) actual action (e.g. Kohli et al 1993; Deller et al. 2009; Scherger 2013; Hochfellner/
Burkert 2013).
Willingness / Intention: The willingness to work in retirement seems to be linked to
socio-structural characteristics. Empirical studies suggest a positive link between the
occupational position and the willingness to continue working in retirement. On the
other hand, the willingness to continue working in retirement is in a negative context
with the household income. The statistical signicance of the ndings was limited to
women (Micheel et al. 2010). Furthermore, high motivation to work (among men) and
self-assessed abilities (among women) are positive factors inuencing the willingness
to be employed in retirement (Büsch et al. 2010).
Retirement planning: The greater the expectation of the positive consequences of
retirement with the previous employer and the greater the intention to continue working in
retirement (with the same employer), the greater the commitment to postwork planning.
Wöhrmann et al. (2013) show that the perception and processing of information about
previous activities change once goals and expectations of retirement have been set.
The latter result supports the empirical relevance of the “crossing the Rubicon” phase
according to the model by Heckhausen and Gollwitzer (1987), which will be discussed
in section 4.3.
Actual action – Labor market participation in retirement: The ndings by Scherger
(2013) underline the importance of social inequality for the above research question. In
particular, membership in a higher professional class is crucial for retirement. Good health
and high educational levels support this phenomenon. Furthermore, an international
comparison between Germany and Great Britain shows that the existence of opportunity
structures is crucial for work in retirement (Scherger 2013). On the basis of three pooled
cross-sectional samples of the German Ageing Survey (1996, 2002 and 2011), Hofäcker
and Naumann (2015) observe a U-shaped pattern of work in retirement in the 2000s when
formal qualications are considered (Hofäcker/Naumann 2015). Hochfellner and Burkert
(2013) show that work in retirement is widespread among those who are at risk of poverty.
This nding was particularly noticeable in persons with migration backgrounds, as their
occupational biographies were unfavorable compared to the native-born population,
resulting in relatively low old-age pensions.
4.2 The concept of unretirement – a differentiated view
Labor market participation in late adulthood is at the center of a dynamic, action-
theoretical approach to the explanation of different transitions into retirement. However,
continued participation in the labor market is by no means the only productive activity
of older adults, even though this is a major social force in modern life affecting social
status as well as individual identity (Bonß 2001). Civic engagement and family support
also play important roles in the cohesion of societies and generations. In retirement age,
these informal activities suggest remarkable productivity potential of older people at least
during the seventh and eighth decades of life (Mergenthaler et al. 2015). Together with the
temporal and activity-related variability of retirement, a phase often dened negatively,
this life phase is determined above all by what older adults do not do, namely paid work
(Denton/Spencer 2009). We therefore propose supplementing current aging and retirement
research with the positive or at least neutral associations of the concept of unretirement.
One of the most crucial and simultaneously most difcult aspects of retirement research
is drawing a clear line between work and retirement, with important consequences for
distinguishing between retirement and the novel episode in the modern life course
of unretirement. Various reviews of the socially structured phenomena of retirement
conclude that the following dimensions have to be taken into account when dening
this line between these domains (Denton/Spencer 2009; Feldman 1994; Gustman/
Steinmeier 1984; Hershenson 2016):
Withdrawal from a signicant sequence in the life course: “work”
Age limit as an indicator for eligibility
Receipt of an old age pension (excluding i.e. widow’s pensions)
Reduced work commitment (either psychological commitment or actual working hours)
or nonparticipation on the labor market
Self-assessed retirement status
A combination of these indicators
Regardless of the chosen combinations of indicators used to dene retirement, one
message we derive from these studies is that the concept of retirement – and therefore
the concept of unretirement – needs to be claried for the scientic audience, because
contradictory results in retirement research can be explained to some extent by the use
of different denitions of retirement (e.g. Beehr/Bennett 2015).
The concept of “unretirement” is dened as a significant time span in higher adulthood
characterized by exceeding legal retirement age with simultaneous receipt of an old-age
pension, and by participating in at least one socially or economically productive activity,
regardless of its duration or intensity.
The concept of unretirement has several advantages over the established active or
productive aging concepts:
It avoids ex ante normative connotations of activities or ways of life as expressed in
the term “productive aging” or “successful aging.”
It refers explicitly to the institutionally anchored life phase of retirement, which in
Germany is a signicant feature of late adulthood.
It is not a further life stage in the higher adult age, but rather a specic living situation,
which can cover several life phases with varying durations. Thus, it indicates the
heterogeneity as well as the temporal uidity of the living conditions of older people.
It is an integrative concept of higher adulthood, as it describes both productivity and
consumption in different areas of life (employment, family work and civic engagement).
4.3 The Rubicon model of participation in post-retirement activities
The Rubicon model of Heckhausen and Gollwitzer (1987) is a basic concept used to
describe and explain the decision-making process of labor market participation among
older people, which includes the intention, the planning and the actual behavior
as components of an individual decision-making process. The model enables us to
distinguish between different phases of action on a timeline, and integrates intentions,
goals and the evaluation of achieved goals on an individual level. The single phases are
divided into either motivational or volitional entities. Motivation is seen as goal setting;
therefore, motivational phases of the model answer the question of what goals are
pursued by a person. Volition describes a form of motivation referring to goal aspirations,
therefore, volitional phases answer the question of how goals that have already been set
can be achieved (Achtziger/Gollwitzer 2010).
A special feature of the motivation phase for the above questions is concerned with the
weighting processes that lead to the formation of an intent with regard to employment in
retirement. If concrete action objectives and intentions are mentioned in this step, the
“Rubicon” is crossed from the perspective of cognitive research (Heckhausen/Gollwitzer
1987). In other words, the individual is dealing with plans for employment in retirement.
In this phase, preparatory measures are taken to pursue the goal such as gathering
information about post-retirement work (initial empirical evidence in the German context
can be found in Wöhrmann et al. 2013).
In the subsequent volition phase, the individual focuses on the aspects that lead to
implementating the goal. As a conclusion, the action taken is assessed with regard to
the success of the project as well as the positive and negative consequences of this
action. The later, evaluating phase has not, to our knowledge, been addressed in
retirement research. Typically, the impact of retirement is assessed by overall quality
of life and health. Central research interests have hitherto been focused on how the
affected people adapt themselves to their new situation in retirement (e.g. Thoits/Hewitt
2001; Kim/Moen 2001; Wang 2007).
The Rubicon model developed in motivational psychology was partly extended to other
scientic disciplines (for a sociological explanation of migration behavior on the basis of
the Rubicon model see Kley 2011). An extended Rubicon model can also be applied to
the theoretical foundation of research on work in retirement: the procedural multi-level
model of labor market participation in the transition to retirement. This is based on our
own considerations as to how patterns of motivation and action can be modeled in the
transitional phase to retirement and embedded in overlapping social structures.
The overarching conceptual framework for this is the life course perspective, which is
concerned with considering individual age-dependent life events or transitions between
different life phases (e.g. transition from school to work, marriage, transition to retirement)
and their consequences for different areas of life (Mayer 2001; Sackmann 2007). This
sociological view is supplemented by the perspective of the psychology of life span,
which explores the interaction between age-related changes in skills, attitudes, goals
and contextual conditions (working environment, communal environment, social
structures; Baltes et al. 2006). On the one hand, it is assumed that individual spheres of
life are not isolated from each other, but are interrelated in different phases of life. The
transition to retirement, for example, is characterized by the domestic partnership context
and the partner‘s employment situation (Drobnič 2002; Pienta 2003). Consequently,
isolated considerations of the connections between individual characteristics and the
participation of older people in the three areas of paid work, civil society and the family are
not sufcient, instead multi-dimensional explanatory approaches are needed that take
into account the overlapping social and life course-related context of aging people (e.g.
household situation, birth cohorts). Moreover, the life course perspective emphasizes
that individuals act on the basis of previous experiences and resources, so that an
“endogenous causal link” (Mayer 2001) exists at the level of individual life courses. For
example, volunteer work in old age depends to a large extent on past volunteering in
previous life phases (Erlinghagen 2008; Maas/Staudinger 2010).
After all, individual life courses and personal development are not determined by biological
processes, but rather are shaped by social, cultural and institutional contexts (Baltes
et al. 2006). The prevailing social image of aging (Ehmer/Höffe 2009) and opportunity
structures are decisive contextual factors. In addition, the basic social structuring of life
processes and situations becomes especially visible in international comparisons and
points to their political formability. For example, on the basis of the Survey of Health,
Age and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), Hank (2011) showed that productive activities of
people aged 50+ are more common in (selected European) countries with a higher civil
liberty index score (indicating more favorable opportunities for productive activities in
older adulthood) and higher shares of social spending.
In order to meet this comprehensive conceptual framework, the classic Rubicon model
is complemented by different elements that must be taken into account in the special
decision-making and action situation of the retirement transition:
On the micro level, the decision to continue working in retirement is made on the basis
of a subjective situation in a multi-stage or circular process.
• This is different from the contextual factors on the meso level, which represent
incentives and opportunities to decide for or against continued work. These include,
for example, the willingness of the employer to continue employment, the partnership
situation, family care or care services, generational relationships and civic engagement.
• At the macro level, socio-structural and institutional contexts as well as cultural
orientations are considered that inuence individual contexts and decisions regarding
labor market participation (connected with regulated pathways into retirement by
pension laws) in the sense of opportunities or restrictions (e.g. income and education
distribution or social perceptions of aging). Considering social structures and contexts
also enables us to explore labor market participation of older people that cannot be
explained solely as an individual decision-making process, but, for example, as due
to material or normative constraints.
Possible options of action following the assessment phase are the re-entry into the
deliberating phase (if parameters have changed or have to be modied) or the stabilization
of the behavior (Heckhausen/Heckhausen 2010; Achtziger/Gollwitzer 2010). We explicitly
add the option of exiting from the action process. The exit as a successful action option
is incorporated to depict the special conditions of the decision-making process about
working after retirement, which is also inuenced by stable socio-demographic factors
such as age (Beehr/Bennett 2015) that lead to the abandonment of bridge employment
planning. This is clearly distinguished from the abortion of the action in case that the
action-related objectives have not been achieved, and is also socially acceptable from
a moral-economic perspective (Kohli 1987). Due to advancing age (connected with
worsening health) and changed situational and contextual conditions (e.g. employment
situation), an exit from the action model can take place without this being described as
unsuccessful, since this is deliberately chosen and intended.23
While in the psychological application of the model (e.g. in the goal to be physically
active) an abortion of the action is regarded as an unsuccessful behavior (Heckhausen/
Heckhausen 2010), this is more differentiated in the decision for or against the
continuation of one‘s own employment beyond retirement age. After a period of work
in retirement, an assessment of one‘s own actions will eventually lead to the exit from
employment as the nal departure from paid labor and thus exit the cycle of the phases
of action. Findings from previous studies show that the desired duration of paid work in
retirement is limited (e.g. Mergenthaler 2014). Bearing this evidence in mind, working
life in retirement is understood by older adults as a time-limited phenomenon. It
is therefore assumed that a nal exit from working life is already planned during the
volatility phase. In this case, no general stabilization of the behavior or re-entry into the
deliberating phase is striven for. In addition, this option recognizes the diversity of life-
drafts on a moral and political level and suggests no normative standard of action that
would reinforce stigmatization of non-working retirees as unproductive. The freedom of
choice, in the sense of self-determined aging, is thereby represented and furthermore an
expression of old-age potential on an individual level (e.g. BMFSFJ 2005).
The deliberately planned exit option during the volition phase emphasizes the dynamic
character of the model, since the evaluation phase is followed by a new form of the action,
which is discussed on a different level. While a further action sequence is entered upon
re-deliberation of the options for continuation of unretirement, the action continues in
the existing form during stabilization. Withdrawal now entails a withdrawal from the
action model and the target action it addresses. This idea adequately takes into account
the specic situation of older people who prolong their employment but do not consider
working until the end of life.
In addition, the model explores the elements of individual decision-making and action
processes embedded in the specic context (on the meso and macro level). Thus, for
example, the effect of paid work in retirement is to improve social status by increasing
income. In addition, labor market participation may compete with other activities, such
as childcare or voluntary work (Burr et al. 2007; Hank/Stuck 2008). The decision-making
processes on the micro level are thus not only characterized by the features on the meso
or macro level, but also have an effect on them. Thus, the procedural model of labor
market participation in the transition to retirement corresponds to the principles of
sociological multilevel models that explain individual actions in the context of social
structures (e.g. Coleman 1990). Research and older people themselves prot from an
interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary view of the process of aging and the synergies of
the combination and further development of theories (Bengtson/Settersten 2016).
From these considerations, the overarching questions arise:
Can the action and decision phases postulated in the model be conrmed empirically?
What patterns of labor market participation can be observed? How do these patterns
inuence the course of retirement?
Does the evaluation of the action as regards the achievement of objectives and
consequences (1) lead to a re-evaluation of the situation, (2) to a stabilization of the
behavior or (3) to a nal exit from the working life?
What inuences of (1) social structural and cultural differentiation, (2) different forms
of transition to retirement, (3) organizational structures, (4) civil engagement, or (5)
of generations and partnership relations can be observed regarding the extent of
labor market participation in older adulthood?
23 Otherwise, working until death would become a dysfunctional option.
How does continued work affect the social position in the transition to retirement? Is
there a dynamic interaction between the socially structured action contexts and the
individual decision-making process?
Figure 1: Model of dynamic labor market participation in the transition to retirement
Source: Authors’ illustration
5 Summary and outlook
In the last few years, the discourse over the crisis of an aging population and its
consequences for the social security systems has been enhanced by a perception of aging
that emphasizes the skills and resources of older people as potentials for the economy and
for society. This change in perspective is a result of a change in the aging process itself.
While considerable numbers of previous birth cohorts were no longer able to perform
productive roles when they reached retirement age, today‘s older adults, due to their good
health as well as their knowledge and abilities, are able to remain active for several years
– even in retirement. Based on this precondition, the transition to retirement is no longer
equated with the onset of “being elderly” as a phase of increasing functional impairments
and a retreat from social life. Further, due to accumulated social and health inequalities in
the second half of life, we observe remarkable heterogeneity of individual aging processes,
which makes late adulthood one of the most varied life segments of modern societies. As
a consequence, not all members of a birth cohort can expect to reach the third age as a
life stage of “…personal achievement and fulllment” (Laslett 1987), especially when they
belong to a socioeconomically deprived group. In contrast, the more privileged members
of society, who have a better chance to age in a healthy way and to live longer compared
to people from lower social classes (e.g. Huisman 2008) also have a higher probability of
engaging in productive activities after the transition to retirement and of further developing
their individual potential during the later stages of life.
Employment or the process of the age-related withdrawal from the labor market stands
at the center of the transition to retirement and the productive roles of older adults,
because in a modern work society, the labor market is a major institution with respect
to social structuring cohesion over the life course (Kohli 1985). The long arm of this
institution reaches even into retirement and should not be underestimated for social
cohesion in a society of long life. The link between human aging and employment is
manifested in at least two ways: rstly, in the form of age-related inclusion and exclusion
by the labor process; the most visible sign for the latter is the legal retirement age, which
simultaneously marks the beginning of “old age” as a separate life phase. Secondly,
employment is indirectly age-exclusive, as it is generally no longer feasible due to
institutionalized age limits, but also due to the mental and physical requirements for
people in certain age groups.
A fundamental change on several levels has taken place in Germany over the last few
years, particularly on the boundary between paid work and retirement. On the one hand
is the institutional paradigm for prolonged working life, which nds its clear expression
in the “pension at 67.” On the other hand, corporate culture is gradually beginning
to adapt to older workforces, as reected in a changing age climate in at least some
German companies (e.g. Heckel 2013). Finally, older workers now enjoy better health
and face a higher need for lifelong learning than was the case a few decades ago
(Kocka/Staudinger 2009). Compared to previous birth cohorts, older workers today have
higher working capacities, better conditions at the workplace and more exible pension
schemes, leading to a greater degree of freedom in designing their late job careers. In
order to meet these larger spheres of inuence, it is not enough merely to describe the
labor market, legal or occupational contexts of labor market participation of older adults.
Rather, it is necessary to adapt the models of action to the specic situations of labor
market participation, which allow us to model individual decision-making processes
and to understand their interactions with occupational and societal contexts. This article
develops such an action model in the form of a modied Rubicon model. This heuristic
framework will be used in future empirical studies to explain two phenomena: age-
related withdrawal from the labor market and the continuation of employment beyond
regular retirement age or the resumption of paid work in retirement.
Due to the importance of employment in modern work society – the tripartition of the
life course in Germany (e.g. Kohli 1985) – there is no functional equivalent that can be
characterized most appropriately in the post-working life phase as the “roleless role”
(Burgess 1960). In the light of demographic change, especially when the baby boomers
reach retirement age from 2020 onwards, this massive withdrawal from the socially
active and inclusive institution of the labor market could also become a challenge for
social cohesion beyond the issue of the nancial sustainability of the statutory pension
insurance system. What is needed to avoid a “roleless role” situation among future retirees
is a reform of the labor market and of the threefold life course vested in employment,
towards an age-inclusive form of employment. This would ideally allow for “uid”
forms of employment that could respond more exibly to the needs of people and their
social environment in different life phases and situations. Such exible organization of
employment allows enough space for other activities, such as volunteering, maintaining
one’s health, individual training or family support. Older people could thus become a
vanguard of a plural form of social and individual productivity, which can also serve as
an example for upcoming generations. It is obvious that this scenario would primarily
apply to the socioeconomically privileged members of the middle and upper classes
(Lessenich 2009). For the members of socially disadvantaged classes, the goal is to
alleviate existing disadvantages across the life course through targeted social policy
measures aimed at the relative improvement of socio-economic life conditions.
The interactions between labor market participation in retirement and other productive
activities, such as family work or engagement in civil society, therefore represent another
research topic. While productive activities by older adults are usually presented as
isolated elds of activities, this paper advocates an integrative perspective that explores
the compatibility of formal and informal work among older adults depending on social and
economic preconditions. This approach is merged to form the concept of unretirement,
which considers labor market participation and simultaneously the interaction with
socially or family-related productive activities central economic dimensions. This
conceptual augmentation could lead to a better understanding of work and productive
activities in later life, in which the clear separation of paid work and volunteering is
increasingly blurred. Thus, older adults could even become vanguards of a differentiated
perspective on work that could also serve as a model for younger people in earlier life
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... Societal changes affect the various life stages and the transitions between them. This is especially so in the third stage of a person's life cyclethe retirement stage (Henkens, van Dalen, Ekerdt, Hershey, Hyde, Radl, van Solinge, Wang, & Zacher, 2017;Mergenthaler, Cihlar, Micheel, & Sackreuther, 2017). ...
... Although a person's dependency on others increases with age, the state-guaranteed pension has provided retirees with a certain degree of security. In addition, the prospect of retirement serves as a guide to people at the work stage on how to organize life and plan for the future (Mergenthaler et al., 2017). ...
... Although we will be discussing current changes in the way retirement is understood, in this paper we will use the word retirement in the traditional way to mean a period of life that begins at a statutory age, is accompanied by a work-related pension from earlier life stages and is unconnected with socially or economically productive activities, especially employment (Mergenthaler et al., 2017). ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
In the past retirement generally meant the one-off cessation of paid work and the beginning of a permanent work-free state and receipt of a pension. Socio-demographic change (population aging) and changes in the sphere of work have a radical impact on the nature of this process. The financial risks of retirement are being shifted on to employees, and the transition to retirement is becoming more diverse and more complex, with people increasingly remaining in employment even after reaching the statutory retirement age. No longer a state of complete disengagement from work, retirement is being re-conceptualized as a late career stage. These changes present challenges for psychological research on retirement. This paper highlights the need to investigate the impact of diverse and often contradictory measures on the timing of retirement and types of retirement and on continuing work, particularly in relation to the psychological aspects (decision-making, adjustment, retirement experience).
... Although researchers have noted that the context and the nature of retirement is changing (Henkens et al., 2018;James et al., 2020;Lindwall et al., 2017;Mergenthaler et al., 2017;Wang & Shi, 2014), it remains unclear whether changes at the macro-level (Hofaecker et al., 2016), historical differences in physical and psychosocial resources Henchoz et al., 2019;Hülür et al., 2016), and retirement sequences (Calvo et al., 2018) translate into accompanying differences in retirement adjustment. In line with Huxhold (2019), we investigate "historical differences," which refers to differences in functioning between individuals and groups assessed at different historical time points, instead of specifically investigating cohort and period effects (Glenn, 2003;Yang, 2008), which cannot be disentangled in research on retirement adjustment. ...
Full-text available
The context of retirement has changed over the last decades, but there is little knowledge on whether the quality of retirement adjustment has changed as well. Changes in retirement regulations and historical differences in resources may affect the quality of adjustment and increase inequalities between different socioeconomic groups. In the present study, we investigated historical differences in retirement adjustment by comparing cross-sectional samples of retirees from 1996, 2002, 2008, and 2014, based on the population-based German Ageing Survey. Adjustment was measured with three different indicators (perceived change in life after retirement, retirement satisfaction, adjustment difficulties). Retirement satisfaction was higher in later samples, but for the other two outcomes, there was no evidence for systematic increases or decreases in levels of retirement adjustment with historical time over the studied period. White-collar workers reported better adjustment than blue-collar workers did, and for two of three outcomes, this effect was stable over time. The white-collar workers’ advantage concerning retirement satisfaction, however, increased. We conclude that in Germany, at least for those who retire within the usual time window, adjustment quality has not changed systematically over the examined 18-year period. We only found mixed evidence for a growing social inequality in the retirement adjustment. However, as individual agency in choosing one’s retirement timing and pathway is increasingly restricted, social inequalities in well-being before retirement may increase.
... Many authors argued that the context and the nature of retirement is changing (James et al., 2020;Mergenthaler et al., 2017). Taken together, our results do not imply that such phenomena have strong effects on well-being across the retirement transition, at least in Germany in the investigated period (1996)(1997)(1998)(1999)(2000)(2001)(2002)(2003)(2004)(2005)(2006)(2007)(2008)(2009)(2010)(2011)(2012)(2013)(2014). ...
Given substantial cohort differences in psychosocial functioning, for example in perceived control, and ongoing pension reforms, the context of retirement has changed over the last decades. However, there is limited research on the consequences of such developments on historical differences in subjective well-being in the retirement transition. In the present study, we investigated historical differences in change in life satisfaction and positive affect across the retirement transition. We further included perceived control as a predictor of change in well-being. Analyses were based on sub-samples of retirees among three nationally representative samples of the German Ageing Survey (1996; 2002; 2008) and their respective follow-ups 6 years later. Results showed historical improvements in pre-retirement positive affect (i.e., later samples had higher pre-retirement levels). Contrastingly, earlier samples showed a larger increase in positive affect across the retirement transition compared to later samples. No historical differences were found in life satisfaction. Perceived control showed no historical improvement and did not seem to contribute to historical differences in subjective well-being. Nevertheless, we found that the association of perceived control and positive affect increased over historical time. The results showed that the historical context seems to play a role in the experience of retirement, and that it is helpful to distinguish between cognitive-evaluative and affective components of well-being.
... Although the retirement styles have been heavily used in subsequent research studies, they were identified and verified within a specific, legislative, and economic view of retirement arrangements and options which dominated in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the retirement landscape and arrangements have changed over time in almost all countries, as described by many scholars from different countries (Henkens et al., 2017;Hershenson, 2016;Kojola & Moen, 2016;Mergenthaler et al., 2017;Shultz & Wang, 2011). These changes also bring about changes in the way older people (and younger people) consciously or unconsciously view retirement in the present day. ...
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The retirement literature contains four distinct conceptualizations of retirement lifestyle. Retirement can be seen as an opportunity to make a new start, the continuation of a pre-retirement lifestyle, an unwelcome imposed disruption, and a transition to old age. This research examines the conceptualizations of retirement lifestyle and how they relate to retirement adjustment and well-being in recent retirees (N = 173). A factor analysis confirmed the existence of four factors identifying four retirement conceptualizations. Although previous studies have presented retirement conceptualizations as mutually incompatible, significant relationships were found between them in this research, indicating that recent retirees can synchronously conceptualize seemingly distinct lifestyles. The cluster analysis identified three types of retirees in the sample. These types were labeled to reflect the prevailing retirement lifestyle concepts. The first type of retiree (N = 90) is “New beginning and continuation,” the second (N = 44) is “Imposed disruption without hope,” and the third is (N = 39) “Accepted disruption and ending.” The analysis of variance revealed the three types differ significantly in the level of satisfaction in retirement, subjective happiness, and life meaningfulness – with the highest level being found in the first retiree type and the lowest level in the second retiree type. The findings suggest that conceptualizations of retirement lifestyle change over time and affect psychological well-being in the recent retiree cohort. The theoretical and practical implications of the results are outlined.
... Labor market participation rates of older workers are rising (OECD 2018) and many individuals-approximately 25% in the United Kingdom and United States-choose to return to work after their first full retirement (Maestas 2010;Platts et al. 2017). It is estimated that approximately half of retirees in such countries as Australia and the United States transition to retirement via post-retirement employment ("bridge employment") or partial retirement (Schultz 2003;Thomson 2007), and that the use of these pathways will continue to rise (Rabaté 2017;Kondo and Shigeoka 2017;Mergenthaler et al. 2017). ...
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Amid the aging workforce, a better understanding of the retirement transition patterns of older workers has implications for public policy. Such transitions are often characterized as complex trajectories involving multiple stages and alternative pathways which, in turn, depend on labor market regulations. This study investigates the factors affecting bridge employment and partial retirement and their subsequent effects on health, well-being and financial security, using micro-level data from a national healthy aging survey and augmented with personal income tax records. The analysis exploits policy-induced changes in retirement status arising from the elimination of mandatory retirement rules in Canada—which occurred at different times across provinces—in an instrumental variables design. The results indicate, first, that mandatory retirement is not used often by employers even when it is permissible: only approximately 7% of current retirees report that their first retirement occurred for this reason. This finding is consistent with limited international evidence on how employers use these rules. Second, we find supportive evidence that the elimination of mandatory retirement reduced the likelihood of individuals being retired by approximately 7–16% but raised the likelihood of subjective partial retirement by 5–6%. Most notably, the reforms reduced the incidence of work after retirement as workers become permitted to stay in their incumbent jobs longer, this finding being very robust across several statistical estimators commonly used in the related literature. No discernible effects are observed on individuals’ health, well-being or future financial security. These findings suggest that costs of mandatory retirement are limited to adjustment frictions among individuals searching for new work or entering retirement earlier than desired under the prevailing wage.
... Im vorliegenden Beitrag konzentrieren wir uns auf den Tätigkeitsbereich "bezahlte Arbeit" im Ruhestand, um einen Un-Ruhestand zu defi nieren, wobei es unerheblich ist, ob eine Person eine Absicht dazu signalisiert oder tatsächlich diese Tätigkeit ausführt (Mergenthaler et al. 2017a). Theoretisch denkbar sind auch unbezahlte Tätigkeiten wie ein Ehrenamt oder familienbezogene Leistungen als zusätzliche Merkmale eines Un-Ruhestandes. ...
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Die geburtenstarken Jahrgänge der 1950er und 1960er Jahre rücken immer weiter in das rentennahe Alter. In den kommenden zwei Jahrzehnten werden sie nach und nach in den Ruhestand wechseln (Fuchs 2013). Trotz des weiterhin ansteigenden gesetzlichen Renteneintrittsalters wird die Lebenserwartung der Menschen im Alter auch in Zukunft so hoch sein, dass die Ruhephase nach dem Erwerbsleben einen beträchtlichen Teil des Lebens ausmacht. Im vorliegenden Beitrag wird mit aktuellen Daten aus dem Bundesinstitut für Bevölkerungsforschung (BiB) diskutiert, wie die gewünschte Lebensgestaltung im Ruhestandsalter aussehen könnte und welche Faktoren einen Einfluss darauf nehmen. Der zentrale Begriff bei diesen Erörterungen ist der sog. Un-Ruhestand, der einer genauen Erklärung bedarf.
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In Zeiten des demografischen Wandels, den damit verbundenen Herausforderungen für die sozialen Sicherungssysteme und einem drohenden Mangel an Fachkräften gewinnt eine Verlängerung der Lebensarbeitszeit zunehmend an Bedeutung. In Anlehnung an die Kontinuitätstheorie (Atchley 1989) wird davon ausgegangen, dass Individuen, die mit ihren Strukturen und Leistungen zufrieden sind, länger im Beruf verweilen. Daher wird untersucht, ob Motivation und wahrgenommene Leistungsfähigkeit einen Einfluss auf den Weiterbeschäftigungswunsch haben. Darüber hinaus soll die Frage beantwortet werden, ob Faktoren, die einen positiven Einfluss auf Motivation und Leistungsfähigkeit haben, auch einen direkten Einfluss auf die Weiterbeschäftigung zeigen. Neben objektiven Faktoren wie Unternehmensgröße und Stellung im Beruf werden subjektive Faktoren, wie z.B. Einschätzung der Anerkennung, der Anforderungen und der Sinnhaftigkeit der Tätigkeit, auf ihren Erklärungsbeitrag, überprüft. Die folgende Analyse basiert auf einer Befragung, die im Mai 2008 zusammen mit dem Bundesinstitut für Bevölkerungsforschung (BiB) durchgeführt wurde. Sie ermöglicht, die Weiterbeschäftigungswünsche im Alter, die vorhandene Arbeitsmotivation und den Gesundheitszustand zu identifizieren. Die zentralen Ergebnisse der statistischen Analyse zeigen, dass bei Männern eine hohe Motivation mit dem Wunsch nach einer Weiterbeschäftigung im Rentenalter verknüpft ist. Auf Frauen trifft dies nicht zu, für sie ist die Leistungsfähigkeit das entscheidende Kriterium. Generell zeigt sich, dass eine positive Einschätzung der subjektiven Einflussfaktoren die Arbeitsmotivation stärkt. Darüber hinaus wurde bezüglich der objektiven Faktoren ermittelt, dass bei den Männern das Arbeitszeitregime (Vollbeschäftigung) und die berufliche Stellung (Angestellte) positiv mit dem Weiterbeschäftigungswunsch korrelieren. Insbesondere eine sinnvolle Tätigkeit bei den Männern und die Leistungsfähigkeit bei Frauen erhöhen die Motivation. Für Unternehmen erscheint es wichtig, Mitarbeiter von der Sinnhaftigkeit der Tätigkeit zu überzeugen.
Die »Zukunft der Arbeit« und ihre Gestaltung stellt eine der derzeit spannendsten gesellschaftlichen Herausforderungen dar. Im Wissenschaftsjahr 2013 »Die demografische Chance« setzte sich auch die DASA Arbeitswelt Ausstellung mit diesem aktuellen Thema auseinander. Die Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin, zu der die DASA gehört, forscht bereits seit einigen Jahren zu »Arbeit, Altern und Gesundheit«. Das betrifft auch Fragen der Arbeitsplatzgestaltung in Bezug auf die Gesunderhaltung älterer Beschäftigter. Was können Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler aus der Alternsforschung, der Soziologie und der Philosophie, aus der Neurologie und der Kulturanthropologie zum Thema beitragen? Was muss eine Demografie-Strategie leisten und wie gehen andere Länder und Kulturen mit diesem Thema um? Darüber informiert dieser vierte Band der Reihe »Constructing the future of work«, der ein wissenschaftliches Symposium der DASA Arbeitswelt Ausstellung in Dortmund ( dokumentiert.
The different research fields – gerontology, gender and health – have generated different views, knowledge and foci on ageing, health and gender. It is now necessary to integrate these aspects into research, policy and practice. The objective of this book is to provide an overview of gender, health and ageing. Important theoretical concepts, such as life course and "Lebenslagen" in old age, or differences in men's health, are introduced. It is increasingly important to build a European basis of knowledge, to conduct discussions on European research findings, and to develop European research frameworks. In this volume, central theoretical debates on gender impacts on life course and old-age health, and vital issues of health research in the context of gender and old age are introduced. Specific aspects, such as the impact of gender and age on cardiovascular health, elder abuse and mental health, or care between gender relations, gender roles and gender constructs, are pointed out. Special attention is given to the impact of social, political and economic change in different New EU Member States, like Hungary, Poland and Slovenia.
The "third age" is described as the period in the life course that occurs after retirement but prior to the onset of disability, revealing a period in which individuals have the capacity to remain actively engaged. This book serves as a comprehensive discussion about how the emergence of the third age has changed the way we think about and examine traditional frameworks regarding aging issues and the life course. It introduces the discussion of the unique challenges and opportunities that older adults face while moving through this early phase of later life, proposing new frameworks, concepts, and methods to re-examine later life in the context of the era of the third age. This book proposes new ways of thinking about how we conceptualize the life course, think about the role of the welfare state in the lives of older people, negotiate social roles in later life, make meaning of our lives as we age, and cultivate relationships with others during later life. It brings together theoretical concepts and frameworks, methodological advances, and emerging themes and controversies that are redefining gerontology in the era of the Third Age. Highlighting important issues that warrant further exploration and discussion, this book advances our understanding of the Third Age and focuses attention on critical issues that should be addressed in future Third Age research and scholarly development.
The transition to retirement is a crucial status passage in older adults’ life. To date, little is known about the consequences of this transition for the quality of private relationships in Germany. Therefore, the aim of this study is the examination of conditions under which a positive development of social relationships in family and friends after the transition to retirement is possible. 1,949 retirees aged 55 to 70 years (M=66.2) were asked about subjectively experienced changes in their relationship to their partner, children, grandchildren, and friends since the transition to retirement. By means of an index, improvement and deterioration in all four dimensions were measured, displaying different conditions. A stepwise linear regression analysis shows the influence of activity-related factors, individual and socio-economic characteristics, interaction effects of activities and gender, as well as the type of retirement transition. Caring for grandchildren especially shows a positive correlation with an increased quality of private relationships. Those who realize active and planning life investment also hold a more positive perception of close social relationships since the transition to retirement. Besides, men who do not work after retirement experience a higher quality of close relationships than those men who perform bridge employment. An involuntary retirement transition shows a negative correlation with perceived relationship quality. Zusammenfassung Der Übergang in den Ruhestand ist eine bedeutsame Statuspassage im Leben älterer Erwachsener. Über die Konsequenzen dieses Übergangs für die Qualität privater Beziehungen ist in Deutschland bislang wenig bekannt. Ziel dieser Studie ist es daher, die Bedingungen zu untersuchen, unter denen eine positive Entwicklung sozialer Beziehungen in Familie und Freundeskreis nach dem Ruhestandseintritt möglich ist. 1.949 Ruheständler im Alter zwischen 55 und 70 Jahren (M=66,2) wurden zur subjektiv wahrgenommenen Veränderung ihrer Beziehung zum Partner, zu den eigenen Kindern und Enkelkindern und Freunden seit dem Ruhestandseintritt befragt. Mithilfe eines Index wurde eine Maßzahl generiert, die von der Verschlechterung bis hin zur Verbesserung in allen vier Bereichen alle Zustände abbildet. Eine schrittweise lineare Regressionsanalyse zeigt den Einfluss von tätigkeitsbezogenen Variablen, individuellen und sozio-ökonomischen Merkmalen, Interaktionseffekten zwischen Tätigkeiten und dem Geschlecht sowie der Art des Ruhestandsübergangs auf die Verbesserung der Beziehungsqualität von Sozialkontakten. Insbesondere die Betreuung von eigenen Enkelkindern zeigte einen positiven Zusammenhang mit einer gesteigerten Beziehungsqualität in privaten Kontakten an. Wer aktiv und planend in das eigene Leben investierte, wies außerdem eine positivere Wahrnehmung von Sozialkontakten seit dem Ruhestandseintritt auf. Männer, die im Ruhestand keiner Erwerbstätigkeit nachgingen schätzten ihre Beziehungsqualität außerdem höher ein als diejenigen Männer, die eine Erwerbsarbeit ausübten. Ein unfreiwilliger Übergang in den Ruhestand wies einen negativen Zusammenhang mit erlebter Beziehungsqualität auf.
This article examines the timing of retirement in a household context, using longitudinal data on employment and family careers. It investigates the retirement decisions of unmarried and married elderly men and women. Since in (West) Germany, patterns of investment in alternative family and market roles over the life course are highly tendered, a separate analysis is also performed on a subsample of working spouses where both partners were employed at age fifty. The determinants of retirement decisions considered in the models are: early life course employment patterns, employment characteristics in later life, health situation, and household circumstances, including the income level. Data come from the German Socioeconomic Panel Study. An event history analysis is conducted using a piecewise constant hazard model with time-varying covariates. The analysis indicates that there are indeed important differences in retirement behavior between men and women as well as between unmarried and married individuals. The household context does matter in retirement decisions but the study discloses gender asymmetry in response to marital status and displays differences between partnerships in which both spouses are employed in late life and those that portray a traditional division of paid/unpaid labor.
This article investigates the effects and risks of recent pension reforms in Germany. While German pension policy systematically supported early retirement for many years in order to relieve the regulated labour market in times of economic stagnation, there has been a substantial change of the pension policy paradigm in the more recent past. Latest reforms expect older people to prolong working life. Using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP) and applying micro-level longitudinal research methods, this contribution shows that the recent reversal of early retirement in Germany has been at the price of growing social inequalities in old age.
The institution of retirement is a defining characteristic of modern and contemporary welfare states. After a long period of decreasing effective and, in part, statutory pension ages in many Western countries (see, for example, Blossfeld et al. 2006), this trend has started to reverse in (Western) Europe since around 2000. Connected to this and against the background of demographic ageing, retirement and its relationship to work have become contested issues (again).