Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Pathways through which health influences early retirement: a qualitative study

Astrid de Wind123, Goedele A Geuskens2*, Kerstin G Reeuwijk24, Marjan J Westerman4, Jan Fekke Ybema2, Alex Burdorf5, Paulien M Bongers123 and Allard J van der Beek13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public and Occupational Health, the EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

2 Department of Work, Health & Care, Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research TNO, Hoofddorp, The Netherlands

3 Body@Work, Research Center on Physical Activity, Work and Health, TNO-VU/VUmc, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

4 Department of Methodology and Statistics, Institute of Health Sciences and the EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

5 Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:292  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-292

Published: 3 April 2013



Due to the aeging of the population, there is a societal need for workers to prolong their working lives. In the Netherlands, many employees still leave the workforce before the official retirement age of 65. Previous quantitative research showed that poor self-perceived health is a risk factor of (non-disability) early retirement. However, little is known on how poor health may lead to early retirement, and why poor health leads to early retirement in some employees, but not in others. Therefore, the present qualitative study aims to identify in which ways health influences early retirement.


Face-to-face semi-structured interviews were conducted with 30 employees (60–64 years) who retired before the official retirement age of 65. Participants were selected from the Study on Transitions in Employment, Ability and Motivation. The interviews were transcribed verbatim, a summary was made including a timeline, and the interviews were open coded.


In 15 of the 30 persons, health played a role in early retirement. Both poor and good health influenced early retirement. For poor health, four pathways were identified. First, employees felt unable to work at all due to health problems. Second, health problems resulted in a self-perceived (future) decline in the ability to work, and employees chose to retire early. Third, employees with health problems were afraid of a further decline in health, and chose to retire early. Fourth, employees with poor health retired early because they felt pushed out by their employer, although they themselves did not experience a reduced work ability. A good health influenced early retirement, since persons wanted to enjoy life while their health still allowed to do so. The financial opportunity to retire sometimes triggered the influence of poor health on early retirement, and often triggered the influence of good health. Employees and employers barely discussed opportunities to prolong working life.


Poor and good health influence early retirement via several different pathways. To prolong working life, a dialogue between employers and employees and tailored work-related interventions may be helpful.

Early retirement; Health; Qualitative study; Dialogue