This study takes a comparative life course perspective on retirement voluntariness across Europe. Combining theories on cumulative (dis)advantage and the welfare state, it examines the relationship between people’s work-family trajectories before age 50 and retirement voluntariness based on the reasons of labor market exit from age 50 onward and whether this
relationship is conditional on the generosity of a country’s level of welfare benefits. To this end, individual life history data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) are enriched with time-varying country data on social spending and uniquely matched to the timeline of people’s work-family trajectories. In line with the cumulative (dis)advantage notion, our results show that people who deviate from the most common trajectory of full-time employment and marriage with children in either the work (by having been predominantly parttime employed, non-employed or self-employed) or family domain (through a divorce or childlessness) are less likely to retire voluntarily and more likely to do so involuntarily. More generous welfare states offset the accumulation of disadvantages for people whose work-family
trajectories are characterized by part-time employment, as with higher levels of social spending, their chances of voluntary retirement improve relatively. However, people with a trajectory that predominantly features non-employment show an even lower likelihood of voluntary retirement in countries that spend more on social welfare benefits, probably because they are not wellcovered in contribution-based social security schemes. We further observed pronounced gender differences in how work-family trajectories relate to voluntary and involuntary retirement, depending on the degree of social spending. The findings broaden our understanding of inequality in retirement voluntariness, indicating that accumulated disadvantages restrict people’s agency in navigating their retirement transition. The welfare state either buffers or exacerbates this accumulation of disadvantages, which is determined by how people’s workfamily trajectories look like.

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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