The role of productive activities in the lives of retirees. A sociological perspective

The Dutch population, as well as the population of many other countries, is ageing. To meet the challenges associated with these demographic changes it is often perceived to be highly important that older persons age actively (e.g., European Union. (2012). The EU Contribution to Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union). Active ageing does not only refer to working longer, but also to independent living and active citizenship after retirement from the career job. This project aims to improve our insights into how older individuals shape their lives after retirement. From a policy perspective it would be desirable that retirees devote their newly acquired leisure time towards ‘productive activities’ that contribute to society, such as volunteer work, informal care, or paid work in a bridge job. The question is, however, to what extent these aims are also reflected in retirees’ attitudes and behavior.

To increase our understanding of the role of productive activities in the lives of retirees we use a sociological perspective. More specifically, we make use of three main theoretical perspectives that are often used in research on retirement transitions and post-retirement life: role theory, continuity theory, and the life course perspective. These frameworks all assume that the way individuals shape their lives is embedded in their individual life course. Therefore, in our project much attention is given to the individual life history of retirees for explaining differences in post-retirement attitudes and behavior. The central research question is: What role do productive activities play in the attitudes and behavior of individuals who recently retired and to what extent and how can between-individual differences be explained by their work, family, and health histories? By studying this question the proposed project aims to contribute to the literature on the retirement process and to the literature on productive ageing. The project fits within the questions that are addressed in Netspar PIL 7 on “heterogeneity within generations and the position of senior citizens”.

The three-wave panel data of the NIDI Work and Retirement Panel will be analyzed to study the research question. In 2001, data were collected from older civil servants who were working for the Dutch central government and from older employees of three large Dutch multinational private-sector organizations. In total 2,403 questionnaires were completed, reflecting a response rate of 62%. The participants of the study were approached again in 2006 /7 (N=1,678; response rate 75%) and 2011 (N=1,276; response rate 78%). The data include – amongst other things – information about the respondent’s life histories (collected retrospectively), preretirement work situation, retirement intentions, actual retirement timing, and post-retirement values, attitudes, and activities, thereby offering a rich source of information for studying post-retirement life and its predictors.


Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is een denktank en kennisnetwerk. Netspar is gericht op een goed geïnformeerd pensioendebat.


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