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Active in Retirement

Does post-retirement work constrain engagement in unpaid productive activities?

Elderly man picking up littter
Source: Halfpoint

The transition to retirement has become increasingly diverse: some retirees leave the workforce entirely, while others continue to work. Working during retirement may, however, limit the time and opportunities for unpaid productive activities, such as volunteering, providing informal care, or looking after grandchildren. Yet, insights about the relationship between different processes of retirement and engagement in unpaid productive activities are scarce.

In a recent study, Olga Grünwald (Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI) and University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG)), Marleen Damman (Radboud University and NIDI), and Kène Henkens (NIDI, UMCG and University of Amsterdam) examined how different retirement processes shape engagement in unpaid productive activities. The analysis is based on two waves (2015 and 2018) from the NIDI Pension Panel Survey, which is a large-scale longitudinal study in the Netherlands that tracks older workers (aged 60-65 at baseline) during their transition to retirement. These data made it possible to observe the transition to retirement of many older workers (N=4,882), and as such, capture the diversity and complexity of retirement.

The results show that more respondents were regularly volunteering (from 17% to 27%) and grandparenting (from 39% to 53%) in wave 2 than in wave 1, while caregiving remained relatively stable (from 33% to 30%). Compared to individuals that did not retire, those that transitioned to full retirement were more likely to volunteer and look after their grandchildren, and those working during retirement were more likely to look after their grandchildren. But among all three groups, they were all just as likely to provide informal care.

The authors explain that full and working retirees engage in unpaid productive activities for different reasons. Volunteering may replace the professional ties that full retirees lose but which working retirees still enjoy, while grandparenting may represent a new, central role that respondents can take on during retirement – irrespective of whether retirees worked. In contrast, caregiving was unrelated to the retirement process, implying that time constraints imposed by paid work are irrelevant for whether older adults engage in informal caregiving. The authors conclude that increasing participation in post-retirement work will likely result in more older adults combining paid work with informal care and grandparenting, but will likely reduce the number of older volunteers.

Author(s) of the original publication
Olga Grünwald