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J Ment Health Policy Econ. 2009 Dec;12(4):175-86.

Work expectations, realizations, and depression in older workers.

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Economics Department, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.



In this study, we explore whether ex ante work expectations, conditional on work force status at age 62, affect self-reported depressive symptoms at age 62.


Our sample includes 4,387 participants of the Health and Retirement Study, a national longitudinal survey of individuals born between 1931 and 1941, and their spouses. The sample is composed of workers who were less than 62 years of age at the study baseline (1992), and who had reached age 62 by the current study endpoint (2004). This sample enables comparison of realized work status with prior expectations. We estimate the impact of expected work status on self-reported depressive symptoms using negative binomial and logistic regression methods. Sex-stratified regressions are estimated according to full-time work status at age 62. The primary outcome is a summary measure of self-reported depressive symptoms based on a short form of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale. The explanatory variable of interest is the subjective probability of working full-time at the age of 62, reported by participants at the 1992 HRS baseline. We control for baseline socioeconomic and demographic variables as well as life events and changes in macroeconomic conditions that occur within the study timeframe.


Among participants who were not working full time at age 62, we find that men who provided a higher ex ante likelihood of full-time employment at 62 had significantly worse self-reported depressive symptoms than men who provided a lower ex ante likelihood. A similar effect was not found for women. Among participants who were working full time at age 62, we do not find a statistical relationship between ex ante expectations and age-62 self-reported depressive symptoms, for either men or women.


The results suggest that an earlier-than-anticipated work exit is detrimental to mental health for men nearing normal retirement age. Previous research has demonstrated that stress is a causal factor in depression, and a premature labor force departure, which is inconsistent with an individual's cognitive judgment of a suitably timed exit from work, is a psychologically stressful transition that could realistically induce depression. This may be especially true of men, who in this cohort, have stronger labor force attachment than women and tend to define their roles by their occupation. The advantages of the study include nationally representative data, a baseline depression control that circumscribes the effect of endogeneity, and a reasonably long follow-up. Despite our efforts to infer causality, unmeasured factors may account for part of the observed relationship. IMPLICATIONS FOR HEALTH POLICY AND RESEARCH: Depression is a disease that, if untreated, may have serious consequences for behavioral, medical, and social well-being. Our results suggest that further research should aim to estimate the magnitude of clinically severe and mild depression in populations of those who retire earlier than expected, especially for men. Such information could help health care planners and policy makers to direct resources to the mental health needs of men who retire prematurely.

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