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You can't always get what you want: actual and preferred ages of retirement in Europe

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 October 2015

Department of Economic Sociology, University of Vienna, Austria. Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU), International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria.
Department of Social and Political Sciences, European University Institute, San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy. Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences, Germany.
Address for correspondence: Nadia Steiber, Department of Economic Sociology, University of Vienna, Oskar-Morgenstern-Platz 1, 1090 Vienna, Austria E-mail:


Using data from the European Social Survey fielded in 2010/11, this study presents new evidence on retirement preferences in Europe. It investigates retirees' preferred and actual ages of retirement, focusing on the retirement window 1995–2011. Moreover, it reports on the prevalence of mismatch in the form of involuntary retirement (retiring earlier than preferred) and involuntary work (retiring later than preferred). The study identifies substantial shares of retirees who are affected by a mismatch between their preferred and actual ages of retirement. In the majority of the countries analysed, at least 30 per cent of retirees would have preferred to continue working past the age at which they retired, while in a number of countries sizeable shares of retirees report involuntary work. The risk factors for involuntary retirement include the experience of late-career job loss, unemployment, job exits for health reasons and, in the case of women, working in higher-status occupations. The risk factors for involuntary work include fatherhood and, in the case of women, part-time work. As a result of rising actual ages of retirement, the risk of involuntary retirement has decreased for more recent retirement cohorts, while due to pension reforms that have tightened eligibility rules for early retirement, men's risk of involuntary work has increased. However, involuntary retirement is still more prevalent than involuntary work.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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