Social support and mental wellbeing in retirement

| July 8, 2020

While retirement is a significant life event, there has been little research on whether and how social support may evolve around retirement.

A new Life Course Centre Working Paper addresses this knowledge gap by examining the relationship between the retirement transition and social support and mental wellbeing.

The paper extends existing work in three ways: firstly, it investigates how social support and mental wellbeing evolve before and after retirement; secondly, it considers social support as a potential moderator between retirement and mental wellbeing; and thirdly, it estimates responses in social support and mental wellbeing to both own and spouse’s retirement.

Using Australian longitudinal data, the Life Course Centre-supported study finds little effect of own or spouse’s retirement on social support. However, it finds that dynamics in mental wellbeing are significantly different between those with low and high social support.

Those with low social support experience worsening mental wellbeing as they approach retirement, but improvements in wellbeing after retirement. Further, for those eligible for the Age Pension, own retirement causally improves mental wellbeing for women, with weaker evidence for men, and by a similar degree for those with low and high social support.

The paper finds the spill-over benefits of spousal retirement on life satisfaction are larger for those with low social support. This suggests that spousal retirement can improve wellbeing for people lacking social support, at least for retirements induced by Age Pension eligibility.

This Working Paper, authored by Life Course Centre Research Affiliate Dr Nathan Kettlewell of the Economic Discipline Group, University of Technology Sydney and Life Course Centre Research Fellow Dr Jack Lam of the Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland, provides novel evidence on the evolution of social support during own and spouse’s retirement, and its moderating effect on mental wellbeing.

The value of research in this area is underpinned by the population ageing occurring in most developed countries. Future research using different dimensions of social engagement, social capital and social integration, and across different institutional settings, would be highly worthwhile.

You can read the full Working Paper, ‘Retirement, Social Support and Mental Wellbeing: A Couple-Level Analysis’ here.

The Life Course Centre is a national research centre investigating the critical factors underlying disadvantage to provide life-changing solutions for policy and service delivery. Established in 2014, the Centre is administered by The University of Queensland and is a collaboration with The University of Sydney, The University of Melbourne and The University of Western Australia as well as international partners and experts