The Changing Landscape of Retirement: Theoretical Perspectives on the Role of Retirement Transition in Socioeconomic Stratification at Older Ages

Retirement transition plays a key role in social stratification structures in later life. On the one hand, the retirement process is embedded in social structures, and the pre-retirement position influences the form of exit individuals can follow. On the other hand, the quality of the retirement transition affects an individual’s post-retirement position. In recent decades, we have observed a drift away from the classic model of retirement, considered as a sharp and irreversible entry to a static “end of life” period, during which socioeconomic inequalities are levelled down by welfare redistribution. The process of retirement becomes more diverse, dynamic and unpredictable. At the same time, public policies encourage later retirement, yet they often do not account for the dramatic discrepancies in the ability to work at older ages. In this article, we explore the role of retirement transition for the socioeconomic structure in later life. First, we consider theoretical approaches to social stratification in older age, including macro-structural, incomerelated, life course, and organisational perspectives. We consider the central dimension of social stratification of retirement, e.g. education and gender. Then, we trace changes in the nature of retirement. We focus on the growing diversity in causes, timing, forms and consequences of retirement. Eventually, the article discusses the impact of the policies aiming at longer working lives. Inequalities between individuals affect not only their experience of retirement but also their capacity for extending working lives related to occupation, work requirements or employability. We argue that with the increasing diversity of late-life careers, the stratificational role of retirement is increasing and the unified reforms can stimulate the development of inequalities and exclusions.

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.

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