Skip to main content


The Puzzle of Retirement and Early Retirement

Category: Book chapters


Harper, S., & Laslett, P. (2005-02-17). The Puzzle of Retirement and Early Retirement. In  Anthony F. Heath, John Ermisch, and Duncan Gallie  (Ed.), Understanding Social Change.: British Academy.

This chapter focuses on early retirement, explaining why at a time of increasing longevity, and in particular healthy and active longevity, there is a continual withdrawal from the labour force of men and women who have not yet reached the formal age of retirement. While the expectation of a healthy life has been steadily growing, between 1950 and 1995 the estimated average age in the UK of the transition from economic employment to economic inactivity by older workers fell from 67.2 to 62.7 years for men and from 63.9 to 59.7 years for women. There are three main explanations for this change. First, economists have taken the view that there exist within most national pension systems incentives to retire. Second, sociologists argued that changes within the workplace and labour market have forced employees to withdraw. Finally, there are the changing attitudes of the workers and a growing internalisation of retirement as an extended period of funded leisure and consumption.