Coping with unwanted early retirement

People who are unable to find satisfactory work after being forced to retire early experience feelings of worthlessness and loss of self-esteem, just as younger unemployed people do, but they also experience unique pressures because of their age, including fearing that they will not be financially prepared for their final retirement, and a greater complexity of family responsibilities.

“this ‘lost generation’ of mature-aged unemployed people needs particular help…”

The findings come from a qualitative study by Rob Ranzijn and colleagues at the University of South Australia. They conducted group interviews with 27 participants aged between 45 and 71, all of whom were seeking work, or wished to change to more satisfactory work. Participants were invited to discuss their situation with the group.

The interviews were taped and transcribed and emerging themes were identified. Psychological themes included loss of self-worth, reduced quality of life, narrowed horizons (i.e. previous retirement plans were having to be reconsidered), inability to use talents and to contribute, effects on family relationships and concerns about the future. One participant said “Yes, it would be very frightening [not to get another job], it would be very, very frightening and I think that is something that you cannot afford at this time in our lives to be complacent about”.

Another issue that emerged was ‘skill atrophy’ – “the processes whereby continuing unemployment can lead to a progressive decay of skills and a perceived (by potential employers) decline in competencies”. This in turn led to what the researchers called the ‘peg-down phenomenon’ – “the older job-seekers’ reduced expectations of both the level of jobs attainable and the likelihood of attaining any such jobs”. In light of this, the authors recommended that “policies aiming to help mature-aged unemployed people re-enter the workforce must include focused training in the skills required in the current job market”.

The researchers concluded that this “’lost generation’ of mature-aged unemployed people needs particular help; otherwise they may live for another 30 or more years without ever again finding satisfactory employment”.

Ranzijn, R. Carson, E., Winefield, A.H. & Price D. (2005). On the scrap-heap at 45: The human impact of mature-aged unemployment. Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology. In Press, DOI: 10.1348/096317905X66828.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.