Reverse retirement — a mixed methods study of returning to work in England, Italy and the United States: propensities, predictors and preferences

Main Article Content

Deborah Smeaton
Mirko Di Rosa
Andrea Principi
Zoe Butler


Using methodological triangulation the study examines reverse retirement in Italy, the United States and England to explore the salience of cultural and structural factors and to consider the extent to which returning to work is a constrained choice. Analysis of harmonised panel data (HRS, ELSA and SHARE) indicates that reverse retirement is most common in the United States and extremely rare in Italy. In the liberal economies of the United States and England, financial factors are key determinants, including retirement income, having more children, children under 30 and mortgage debt. However, a certain degree of advantage is a prerequisite for returning to work, including higher education, good health, younger age, and free from caring responsibilities – opportunity structures and capacity to work therefore remain barriers for some older groups. Despite international convergence in the policy landscape, “retirement” continues to hold different meanings in the three distinct national contexts with implications for later life working.


Metrics Loading ...

Article Details



Bambra, C. (2004). The worlds of welfare: illusory and gender blind? Social Policy and Society 3(3): 201–211.

Blossfeld, H.P., Buchholz, S. & Hofäcker, D. (eds.). (2006). Globaliza­tion, Uncertainty and Late Careers in Society. London and New York: Routledge.

Blossfeld, H. P., Buchholz, S. & Kurz, K. (eds.). (2011). Aging Populations, Globalization and the Labor Market: Comparing Late Working Life and Retirement in Modern Societies. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

Cahill, K., Giandrea, M. & Quinn, J. (2010). The Role of Re-Entry in the etirement Process. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Working Paper 439 (June). United States Department of Labour. Available on (Accessed May 2016).

Cahill, K., Giandrea, M. & Quinn, J. (2016). To what extent is gradual retirement a product of financial necessity? Work Aging and Retirement 3(1): 25–54.

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). (2012). Managing A Healthy Ageing Workforce: A National Business Imperative. London: CIPD.

Chung, R. H. & Dodder, R. A. (1996). Conceptualization of aging in a cross-national context. Mankind Quarterly 36(3/4): 285–295.

Cox, W. (2011). More Americans move to detached houses. New Geography, 11/01/2011. Available online: content/002506-more-americans-move-detached-houses (Accessed February, 2016).

Dein, S. & Huline-Dickens, S. (1997). Cultural aspects of aging and psychopathology. Aging & Mental Health 2(1): 12–120.

Denzin, N. (2006). Sociological Methods: A Sourcebook. Aldine Transaction.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). (2014a). Fuller Working Lives. London: The Stationery Office.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). (2014b). Fuller Working Lives – Background Evidence. London: The Stationery Office.

Ebbinghaus, B. & Hofaecker, D. (2013). Reversing early retirement in ad­vanced welfare economies: A paradigm shift to overcome push and pull factors. Comparative Population Studies 38(4): 807–840.

Ebbinghaus, B. (2006). Reforming Early Retirement in Europe, Japan and the USA. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ekerdt, D. (1986). The busy ethic: Moral continuity between work and retirement. Gerontologist 26(3): 239–244.

Elder, G. H., Johnson, M. K. & Crosnoe, R. (2003). The emergence and development of life course theory. In J. T. Mortimer & M. J. Shana­han (eds.), Handbook of the Life Course (pp. 3–19). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.

Esping-Andersen, G. (1990) The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.

Esping-Anderson (1999) Social Foundations of Post-industrial Economies. Oxford: OUP.

Eurofound. (2012). Income from Work after Retirement in the EU. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

European Commission (EC). (2011). Social Agenda – The European Commission’s Magazine on Employment and Social Affairs. Issue 26. Brussels. Cited in Timonen, V. (2016). Beyond Successful and Active Age­ing. Bristol: Policy Press.

European Commission (EC). (2014). About the European Innovation Partner­ship on Active and Healthy Ageing. A Europe 2020 Initiative, Innovation Union. Available on index_en.cfm?section=active-healthy-ageing&pg=about (Accessed May 2016).

Eurostat (2014) Eurostat Statistics Explained. Online publication. Avail­able on:,_2015_ (%25_of_population)_YB17.png (Accessed January 2018).

Ferring, D. & Wenger, C. (2003). European Study of Adult Well-Being: (ESAW) Comparative Report on The European Model of Ageing Well. Available on (Accessed October 2014).

Ferrera, M. (1996). The ‘southern’ model of welfare in social Europe. Jour­nal of European Social Policy 6(1): 17–36.

Foster, L. & Walker, A. (2015). Active and successful aging: A European policy perspective. The Gerontologist 55(1): 83–90.

Gauthier, A. H. & Smeeding, T. M. (2003). Time use at older ages: Cross national differences. Research on Aging 25(3): 247–274.

Giandrea, M. D., Cahill, K. E. & Quinn, J. F. (2010). Bridge jobs: a compar­ison across cohorts. Research on Aging 31, 549–576.

Giarini, O. (2009). The four pillars, the financial crisis and demographics – Challenges and opportunities. The Geneva Papers 34: 507–511.

Gonzales, E. & Nowell, W. (2016). Social capital and unretirement: Explor­ing the bonding, bridging, and linking aspects of social relationships. Research on Aging 39(10): 1100–1117.

Gruber, J. & Wise, D. (eds.). (1999). Social Security and Retirement around the World. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Haider, S. & Loughran, D. (2001). Elderly Labor Supply: Work or Play? Center for Retirement Research Working Paper No. 2001–04. Boston: Boston College.

Hank K, & Stuck S. (2008) Volunteer work, informal help, and care among the 50+ in Europe: Further evidence for ‘linked’ productive activities at older ages. Social Science Research 38: 1280–1291.

Hasselhorn, H. M. & Apt, W. (eds.). (2015). Understanding Employment Participation of Older Workers: Creating a Knowledge Base for Future Labour Market Challenges. Berlin: Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

Hirsch, D. (2003). Crossroads After 50: Improving Choices in Work and Retire­ment. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Hofäcker, D. (2010). Older Workers in a Globalizing World. An International Comparison of Retirement and Late-Career Patterns in Western Industrial­ized Societies. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

Hofäcker, D., Hess, M. & König, S. (eds.). (2016). Delaying Retirement: Prog­ress and Challenges of Active Ageing in Europe, the United States and Japan. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

House of Commons. (2015). Pensions: International Comparisons. London: The Stationery Office.

Jun, J. (2014). Balance beyond Work Life: An Empirical Study of Older People’s Time Use in the UK. Oxford, UK: University of Oxford.

Kanabar, R. (2015). Post-retirement labour supply in England. Journal of the Economics of Ageing 6: 123–132.

Kanabar, R. (2012). Unretirement in England: An empirical perspective. Discussion Papers in Economics No: 12/31.

Kidd, M.P., Metcalfe, R. & Sloane, P.J. (2012). ‘The determinants of hiring older workers in Britain revisited: An analysis using WERS 2004’. Applied Economics 44(4): 527–536.

Klevmarken, A. (2010). Who Works after 65? A Statistical Analysis. Stock­holm: Statens Offentliga Utredningar (SOU), p. 85.

Kutlu-Koc, V. (2014). The Retirement-Consumption Puzzle and Unretirement. Netspar Discussion Paper 11. Tilburg: The Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement.

Lahey, K. E., Kim, D., & Newman, M. L. (2006). Full retirement? An exami­nation of factors that influence the decision to return to work. Financial Services Review 15: 1–19.

Larsen, M. & Pedersen, P. (2013) To work, to retire – Or both? Labor mar­ket activity after 60. IZA Journal of European Labor Studies 2: 21.

Macnicol, J. (2010) “Older men and work in the twenty-first century: What can the history of retirement tell us?”. Journal of Social Policy 37(4): 579–595.

Maestas, N. (2010). Back to work: Expectations and realisations of work after retirement. Journal of Human Resources 45(3): 718–748.

Moen, P. (2005). Beyond the career mystique: ‘time in,’ ‘time out,’ and ‘second acts’. Sociological Forum 20(2): 189–208.

Munnell, A. (2014). The impact of aging baby boomers on labour force participation. Center for Retirement Research Briefing, February 2014, Number 14–4.

Nimrod, G., Janke, M. C. & Kleiber, D. (2007). Expanding, reducing, con­centrating and diffusing: Activity patterns of recent retirees in the United States. Leisure Sciences 31: 37–52.

Nimrod, G., Janke, M. C. & Kleiber, D. A. (2008). Retirement, activity, and subjective well-being in Israel and the United States. World Leisure Journal 50(1): 18–32.

ONS (2016). Overview of the UK population: February 2016. London: The Stationery Office

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2015). Pension at a Glance 2015. Paris: OECD.

Parry, J. & Taylor, R. F. (2007). Orientation, opportunity and autonomy: Why people work after state pension age in three areas of England. Ageing and Society 27(4): 579–598.

Patacchini, E. & Engelhardt, G. (2016). Work, Retirement and Social Networks at Older Ages. Working Paper No. 2016-15. Boston, MA: Centre for Re­tirement Research.

Petterson, J. (2011). Instead of Bowling Alone? Unretirement of Old-Age Pen­sioners. Working Paper 2011:14. Uppsala: Department of Economics, Uppsala University.

Polverini, F. & Lamura, G. (2005). Italy: Quality of life in old age. In A. Walker (ed.), Growing Older in Europe (pp. 55–82). Maidenhead: OUP.

Porcellato, L., Carmichael, F., Hulme, C., Ingham, B. & Prashar, A. (2010). ‘Giving older workers a voice: Constraints on the employment of older people in the North West of England’. Work Employment & Society 24(1): 85–103.

Reynolds, F.A., Farrow, A. & Blank, A. (2012) ‘Otherwise it would be noth­ing but cruises’: Exploring the subjective benefits of working beyond 65. International Journal of Ageing and Later Life 7(1): 79–106.

Sass, S. (2016). How Do Non-Financial Factors Affect Retirement Decisions? Boston, MA: Centre for Retirement Research, Boston College, Research Briefing, Number 16-3.

Smeaton, D. (2015). Extending working life in the UK. IAGG-ER 8th Congress, Dublin, 23–26 April.

Smeaton, D. & McKay, S. (2003). Working after State Pension Age: Quantitative Analysis. Research Report No. 182. London: DWP.

Smeaton, D. & Vegeris, S. (2009). Older People Inside and Outside the Labour Market: A Review. Research report 22. Manchester: Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The Age and Employment Network (TAEN). (2013). Survey of Jobseekers Aged 50+. London: The Age and Employment Network.

Torres, S. (2003). A preliminary empirical test of a culturally-relevant theoretical framework for the study of successful aging. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology 18(1): 79–100.

UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). (2014). The UK Commission’s Employer Skills Survey 2014: UK Results. London: UK Commission for Employment and Skills.