Research Article: Work stress among older employees in Germany: Effects on health and retirement age

Date Published: February 4, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Jana Mäcken, Adrian Loerbroks.


Policy makers in aging societies aim for the extension of work lives by increasing the official retirement age. Despite these efforts, many people stop working before reaching this retirement age. The main reason for early retirement is poor health. Health in turn is influenced by exposure to the work environment. Furthermore, health and work stress are influenced by education, which may lead to different effects for the lowly and the highly educated.

This study examines the relationship between work stress and retirement age. It investigates whether this relationship is mediated by health and moderated by education. Three dimensions of health are taken into account: self-rated health (SRH), depressive symptoms, and high cardiovascular risk diseases (HCVR).

A German subsample of the longitudinal Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) was linked with register data of the German Public Pension Scheme (SHARE-RV). The sample followed 302 individuals aged 50 to 65 years at baseline from 2004 to 2014. The data contains information on work stress, measured by job control and effort–reward–imbalance (ERI), health, and age of retirement. Multi-group structural equation modeling was applied to analyze the direct and indirect effects of work stress on retirement age via health. Work stress was lagged so that it temporally preceded health and retirement age.

Lower job control and poorer SRH lead to a lower retirement age. Health does not operate as a mediator in the relationship between work stress and retirement age. Education moderates the relationship between work stress and health: high ERI leads to better SRH and better physical health of higher educated persons. Low job control increases the risk of depressive symptoms for persons with less education.

Improving stressful working conditions, particularly improving job control, can prolong the working lives of employees and postpone retirement.

Partial Text

Europe’s workforce is aging rapidly, especially in Germany. This demographic change requires policies that seek to extend working lives, for example, by increasing the statutory pension age and closing early retirement pathways. The aim of these reforms is to increase the labor participation of older workers to secure the long-term sustainability of the social security system. However, the actual retirement age in Germany in 2016 was 63.2 years and thus below the statutory age of 65 years [1]. Moreover, the premature exit from paid work has also been a serious concern for individuals and companies. For individuals, leaving paid work might increase the risk of financial and social problems, while companies face a skill shortage. This highlights the importance of understanding risk factors contributing to early retirement. Previous research has shown that one primary reason for early retirement is poor health [2–4]. Health in turn is influenced by exposure to the job environment, in which most persons spend a comparatively high proportion of their lifetime [5–7].

The mean retirement age of the respondents was 63 years. Less-educated employees retired earliest (Table 1). Low job control was the highest for less-educated individuals. ERI was higher among highly educated individuals. Respondents with less education reported poor SRH, depressive symptoms, and HCVR more often than people with higher education. P-values based on a t-test showed that differences in retirement age between less-educated people and highly educated people were significant.

The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between work stress, health, and retirement age, based on educational level. The results show that health does not mediate the association between work stress and retirement age. Work stress in terms of low control has a direct effect on retirement age, showing that lower job control is associated with a lower retirement age. In contrast to previous research, effort–reward–imbalance has no effect on health and retirement age in Germany [18,38]. Additionally, poor SRH reduces retirement age, whereas depressive symptoms and HCVR do not. In line with previous research, this study shows that SRH seems to be a stronger predictor for early retirement than other conditions [4,11]. The results differ by education: Work stress affected health differently, depending on the level of education of the employee and the health measure. In the case of SRH, a higher ERI led to a better SRH for highly educated employees. Employees with a high level of education with a high ERI also had a lower probability of HCVR. In contrast, less-educated people with low job control had more depressive symptoms. No differences between educational level and retirement age were found.




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