Homo faber, homo otiosus: early retirement, health and mortality risks in Belgium, 2001 – 2004

Jon Anson, Ben Gurion University of the Negev
Patrick Deboosere, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Early retirement in good health, and with an adequate pension, offers the possibility of living a full life and fulfilling life-long dreams, without the pressures, trials and tribulations of work. On the other hand, stopping work implies a lesser-embeddedness in a network of meaningful social relations and a release from the imperative social discipline of the work-place. Previous analysis has indicated that the mortality risk of those currently not working may be up to double that for those who are working. However, these analyses have not controlled for selectivity by health status, nor have they distinguished between those retired and those not working, but not legitimately retired. We consider the effect of various work statuses on the mortality risk of Belgian men and women aged 50 – 64, controlling for age, sex and subjective health status at the census. We use a 20 percent sample of Belgian nationals who were working at the time of the Belgian 1991 census and enumerated in the 2001 census, linked to individual mortality records over 39 months after the 2001 census. We find that ill health is the major mortality risk, and that the net effect of not working is to increase the mortality risk by about a third, far lower than previous estimates. However, in view of the very low probability of dying at this age, as well as the dynamic interrelations between health, working and antecedent conditions (education, material wealth, occupation and marital status) we suggest that these results need to be treated with caution.

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Presented in Session 85: Socio-Economic Differences in Mortality