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Is retirement good or bad for mental and physical health functioning? Whitehall II longitudinal study of civil servants
  1. G Mein1,
  2. P Martikainen1,2,
  3. H Hemingway1,3,
  4. S Stansfeld,
  5. M Marmot1
  1. 1International Centre for Health and Society, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, UK
  2. 2Population Research Unit, Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki, Finland
  3. 3Department of Research and Development, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster Health Authority, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 G Mein, International Centre for Health and Society, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Royal Free and University College Medical School, 1–19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK;


Background: To determine whether retirement at age 60 is associated with improvement or deterioration in mental and physical health, when analysed by occupational grade and gender.

Methods: Longitudinal study of civil servants aged 54 to 59 years at baseline, comparing changes in SF-36 health functioning in retired (n=392) and working (n=618) participants at follow up. Data were collected from self completed questionnaires.

Results: Mental health functioning deteriorated among those who continued to work, but improved among the retired. However, improvements in mental health were restricted to those in higher employment grades. Physical functioning declined in both working and retired civil servants.

Conclusion: The study found that retirement at age 60 had no effects on physical health functioning and, if anything, was associated with an improvement in mental health, particularly among high socioeconomic status groups.

  • retirement

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  • Funding: The Whitehall II study has been supported by grants from the Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, Health and Safety Executive, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (HL36310), National Institute on Aging (AG13196), Agency for Health Care Policy Research (HS06516), The New England Medical Centre: Division of Health Improvement, Institute for Work and Health, Toronto, and the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation Research Networks on Successful Midlife Development and Socio-economic Status and Health. PM is supported by the Academy of Finland (grant 48600 and 53234) and the Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation. MM is supported by an MRC Research Fellowship. HH is supported by a Public Health Career Scientist Award from the Department of Health, UK.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.