Extended working lives, inequality and well-being: evidence from the UK

Increases to average life expectancy, declining fertility, and the movement of the ‘baby-boom’ cohorts into the traditional retirement years, have all fuelled concerns about individual financial wellbeing in later life and the sustainability of public pensions. The response—implemented in various forms and to varying degrees cross-nationally—involves packages of reforms that limit or close alternative early labour market exit pathways (e.g., via disability pensions) and increase the age at which individuals become eligible for a public pension. However, the emphasis on the promised ‘double dividend’ of longer working lives –greater personal income for the individual and postponed reliance on public pension schemes—has obscured attention from how these changes have the potential to exacerbate existing disparities and generate new forms of inequality, including health and financial inequality. In this presentation, I present findings from the Wellbeing, Health, Retirement and the Life Course (WHERL) project, which assesses the life course determinants and consequences for health and wellbeing of working up to and beyond the state pension age, and whether (and how) these relationship have changed across cohorts. This research uses data from the British Household Panel Survey, Understanding Society, the English Longitudinal Study on Ageing and the British Retirement Surveys.