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12 May 2020

Women in high-stress jobs more depressed due to rising State Pension age

The harmful mental health consequences of these State Pension Age reforms may have been overlooked, new research finds


A new study published in the journal Health Economics by a team of researchers from the Institute of Gerontology at King’s College London examined the health implications of increases to the State Pension age (SPA) in Britain from age 60 up to age 66 for women born after March 1950. The findings raise concerns about the harmful mental health effects for women in physically and psychosocially strenuous jobs, and the potential health costs of recent pension policy reforms

The paper Later retirement, job strain and health: evidence from the new State Pension age in the UK is the first study on the health effects of recent reforms to SPA for women in Britain. It found that rises in SPA have led to a 30% increase in the probability of depressive symptoms among women working in physically and psychosocially demanding jobs. These are jobs characterised by low control combined with high job demands. About a third of women in the UK work in these jobs, which include those in housekeeping and restaurant services, personal care, sales, cleaning, and machine operation

The researchers call for any future policies to increase the State Pension age to consider preventative strategies targeting the mental health effects of such reforms for women in high stress jobs, and to reflect on the fairness of failing to take into account working conditions as criteria for SPA eligibility

The UK, as most OECD countries, has introduced reforms to raise the State Pension age. These reforms may be necessary for improving the financial sustainability of pension systems, and some workers may benefit from longer working lives. However, blanket increases in the state pension age ignore the fact that some groups of workers face increased exposure to physically or psychologically strenuous working conditions, and therefore face a higher risk of mental and physical health problems

Dr. Ludovico Carrino, Lead Researcher

Our results suggest that, while workers in managerial or professional occupations do not experience worsening health, women in jobs with low control and high levels of demand do experience increased physical and mental health problems, which will contribute to health inequalities. Increasing mental health conditions are likely to lead to increased health-care costs, disability benefit enrolment and service use, while lowering labour market productivity

Professor Mauricio Avendano, Director, Institute of Gerontology

Addressing this challenge may require new ways of thinking about alternative interventions to support workers in high-stress occupations in order to prevent harmful mental health consequences, such as policies that promote flexible working as a way to facilitate the transition to retirement

Professor Karen Glaser, Head of the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine

The researchers employed data from the Understanding Society survey, following a sample of around 3,500 women aged 60 to 64 between 2009 and 2017. By comparing information on individual’s birth and interview date, they were able to classify respondents based on whether they were eligible for the State Pension at the time of interview. The team then compared the mental health of women who were not eligible to receive their State Pension because of changes to the SPA, to the health of women of a similar age and characteristics, who were unaffected by the reform by virtue of their birthdate.

In this story

Karen Glaser

Professor of Gerontology

Dr Ludovico Carrino

Research Fellow

Professor Mauricio Avendano Pabon

Visiting Professor of Public Policy & Global Health