Labour Market Exit and Social Stratification in Western Europe: The Effects of Social Class and Gender on the Timing of Retirement

forthcoming in European Sociological Review


Jonas Radl



This paper analyses social variability in retirement timing. It draws on a social stratification perspective, which arguably provides a richer theoretical framework than one-dimensional pull or push approaches. The first objective is to establish how class membership influences both the timing of retirement as well as the degree of accessibility to different pathways to retirement. The second objective is to elucidate the interplay of gender and class in work-exit dynamics. The empirical analysis uses data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) to estimate a series of event-history models for a sample of respondents from 11 Western European countries. The results show that social class exerts a strong influence on retirement processes, over and beyond other socio-economic characteristics, and especially on the risk of involuntary retirement. Employment constraints (push factors) and economic incentives (pull factors) affect workers in different class positions in markedly different ways. While there exist significant gender differences in retirement behaviour, these appear to be largely driven by women’s lower class positions. The article concludes that ill health and unemployment remain heavy obstacles to prolonging working life in contemporary Western Europe.


Key words: retirement; social stratification; life course; social class; gender; survival analysis.