Study: Retirement, health and employment among older Canadians

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Older workers end their employment careers in different ways and for a variety of reasons. Many stay on the job past the point when others retire; others opt for partial retirement, while some who have retired subsequently re-enter the workforce. And, of course, many will fully retire from the world of work.

Using data from the 2009 Healthy Aging cycle of the Canadian Community Health Survey, this study examined Canadians age 55 and over who had fully retired, those who had partially retired, those who had retired and returned to work, and those who had never retired. Each of the four groups faces different circumstances.

Older Canadians who have fully retired from work report worse general health, more chronic health conditions and were less physically active than their counterparts who remain at work even after controlling for age differences.

For example, nearly 1 in 4 (24%) of the fully retired said they were in poor or fair health, compared with 11% of those who were partially retired and 5% of those who had returned to work from retirement.

But poor health is not necessarily a consequence of full retirement since for many it influenced their decision to retire. About one-quarter of full retirees reported that poor health or a disability was a factor in their decision to retire compared with 16% among the partially retired and 14% among retirees who later returned to work.

Many of those who had yet to retire reported that they were not financially prepared to leave work: 40% said their financial plans for retirement were less than adequate. More than one-third of this group still had a mortgage on their homes compared with one-quarter of the partially retired and 11% of the fully retired.

The partially retired were the most likely to report that they retired because they were financially able to do so. Two-thirds of the partially retired worked on a part-time basis, that is, fewer than 30 hours per week. This compares with 11% of those who had never retired and 22% of retirees who had returned to work.

Retirees who had returned to work were the most likely to be in the top income bracket, corresponding to their high average level of education. Nevertheless, one-half reported that financial considerations contributed to their decision to return to work.

Full retirement generally corresponded to lower income: 60% of people who had fully retired were in the two lowest income brackets in 2009, compared with less than 30% of workers who had never retired.

A second study uses census data from 1981 to 2006 to examine factors associated with self-employment among seniors aged 65 and over. It found that recent growth in paid jobs among seniors outpaced gains in self-employment.

Between 1996 and 2006, the share of self-employment among working seniors fell from 54% to 44% for men, and from 34% to 29% for women. These declines followed increases during most of the 1980s and 1990s.

Senior men and women with higher family income from sources other than individual employment earnings and those with family members who were self-employed were most likely to be self-employed themselves.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 5146.

The article "Retirement, health and employment among those 55 plus" is now available in the online edition of Perspectives on Labour and Income, Vol. 23, no. 1 (75-001-X, free), from the Key resource module of our website under Publications.

For more information or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this article, contact Jungwee Park (613-951-4598;, Labour Statistics Division.

For more information or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of "Seniors' self-employment," contact Sharanjit Uppal (613-951-3887;, Labour Statistics Division.