• Some employees will not have the physical (or even psychological) capacity to remain in employment in the event of a further increase in the retirement age, according to our partner The Conversation.

  • The 1993 pension reform (lengthening the contribution period) had moreover degraded the perceived health of people with little qualifications, and therefore more inclined to have physically difficult careers.

  • The analysis of this phenomenon was carried out by Thomas Barnay, professor of economics and Éric Defebvre, lecturer in economics.

The nagging question of pension reform is invariably associated with the decline in the age of entitlement.

However, the chances of continuing a professional activity beyond the age of 60 remain very strongly linked to the health of seniors.

In 2021, more than a third of French employees believe that work deteriorates their health, against only 23% in Europe.

Exposure to noise, dust, chemicals or infectious agents, carrying heavy loads and repetitive hand movements are among the most discriminating physical constraints in France according to Eurofound.

In addition, for the past thirty years, work has become denser, the rhythms are accelerating, autonomy is reduced.

According to the 2015 European survey on working conditions, the social work environment (management perception, help and support from colleagues, managers, social behavior, discrimination and social climate in general) has also become a major constraint, France being in the last positions among the countries of the European Union by the yardstick of this criterion.

“Does your job affect your health?

»© Eurofound (2021) / Datawrapper

It is a safe bet that in the event of a further extension of the retirement age, some of these employees will not have the physical or even psychological capacity to remain in employment at later ages.

Moreover, the pension reform of 1993 (lengthening the period of contribution) had degraded the perceived health of people with little qualifications, more inclined to have physically difficult careers.

In France, what are the consequences of retirement on physical and mental health and how can we take into account, in a precise manner, exposure to degraded physical and psychosocial working conditions throughout the professional career in this relationship?

It is to this question that we answer in our last article published in the journal

Annals of Economics and Statistics


Two competing and very intuitive hypotheses coexist in the literature dealing with the role of retirement on health status.

“Retirement Blues” or a well-deserved retirement?

In a particularly virulent pamphlet against the medicine of the eighteenth century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau considers that "temperance and work are the best doctors of man".

It is useful to remember that people who are employed are on average in better health than those who are not working.

Quite naturally therefore, the first hypothesis assumes that leaving the labor market leads to a loss of social role, a reduction in social capital and therefore a deterioration in health (reinforced by a loss in terms of standard of living).

Anglicisms, such as "retirement blues" or "unhealthy retirement", translate this situation in a particularly explicit way.

The work environment also appears to be more cognitively stimulating than retirement.

Several authors corroborate this hypothesis and highlight the negative influence of retirement on cognitive capacities, chronic diseases, depression or mobility.

Loss of social role in retirement can lead to depression © Pxhere, CC BY-SA (via The Conversation)

Conversely, the second hypothesis postulates that retirement can free individuals from professional stressful situations and can therefore improve their state of health in the short term.

This virtuous circle can be sustainable if individuals have the capacity to invest in their health.

Thus, many international empirical studies show that retirement is beneficial for health in Europe and the United States.

How then to decide between these two hypotheses?

In fact, the net effect of retirement depends greatly on when it occurs.

The positive effect is often associated with early retirement, and mainly concerns individuals who started their careers early and very exposed to the arduous nature of the work, which is known to have long-term effects on the state of health, in France as well as in France. abroad.

In France, the probability of declaring themselves in poor health is significantly lower for retirees than for individuals who remain in employment at advanced ages.

In particular, workers who retire as early as possible improve their cognitive abilities.

The protective role of retirement

Based on retrospective data from the Health and professional route survey (2006, 2010) by DREES and DARES, our study, which reconstructs all past exposure to working conditions for each year of professional life, confirms these effects.

These working conditions, the role of which is specifically studied in this study, are of two types: physical (night work, repetitive work, physically demanding work and exposure to toxic or harmful products) and psychosocial (full use of skills, work under pressure, tensions with the public, recognition of work at its fair value, work-life balance and family obligations, good working relations with my colleagues). We thus construct two synthetic indicators and consider a person to be exposed if their degree of exposure is higher than the average.

As expected, the protective role of retirement remains very pronounced among people whose work has been trying.

For people with physical constraints, retirement primarily improves general health, while for people with psychosocial constraints, it more significantly reduces anxiety and depression.

Research has shown that the arduous nature of the work produces long-term health effects © Flickr, CC BY-SA (via The Conversation)

In particular, we observe the most visible effects of retirement in the low-skilled male population exposed to physical constraints, for which we record a decrease of 21.2 percentage points (pp) in the probability of declaring themselves in poor condition. health and 13.7pp for chronic disease, 16pp for activity limitations and 8pp for anxiety or depression.

More surprisingly, retirement also improves, to a lesser extent, the perceived health of people with little or no exposure and reduces their level of depression and anxiety.

Finally, it should be noted that the beneficial effect of retirement on health does not completely reduce the harmful effect of past working conditions on health, especially among those most at risk.

A malaise of seniors at work

These results question the methods of compensation and the legitimacy of an approach that almost exclusively restores the deleterious consequences of arduous work.

Failing to conduct prevention policies, various targeted compensation mechanisms have been introduced since the beginning of the 2000s. Some recognize the specificity of long careers started early and often trying (early retirement for long careers set up in 2003).

Others aim to directly measure exposure to the physical constraints of work justifying a derogation from the legal retirement age (Personal account for the prevention of arduousness - C3P - in 2014, then reduced in terms of scope to the Personal account of prevention - C2P - in 2017).

These devices appear to be limited in at least two ways.

First of all, the differences in life expectancy linked to differences in exposure to arduous working conditions are only partially compensated for.

For example, the hardship account only allows you to anticipate retirement by a maximum of two years.

However, at the age of 62, recipients of inability to work pensions can expect to live nearly five years less than retirees from the general scheme.

Life expectancy at the age of 62 © Pension Orientation Council (SNSP 2017 figures) / Datawrapper

Then, psychosocial risks at work are not taken into account, even though they seriously degrade mental but also physical health in France.

The fact that retirement improves the health of all is therefore undoubtedly the indicator of general ill-being at work among French seniors.

Maintaining good health at work therefore requires implementing more ambitious systemic health policies, acting over the entire life cycle (training, employment, prevention and health at work policy as well as worker protection). people excluded from the labor market), to get out of a policy of care stricto sensu or ex post compensation.


They must respond to the singular dissatisfaction of French employees in terms of psychosocial risks, the feeling of loss of autonomy and more fundamentally the loss of meaning at work.

Didn't Albert Camus indicate in

Le mythe de Sisyphe

(1942) that "there is no punishment more terrible than useless and hopeless work"?


Old age: Maintaining an active sex life is good for the morale and health of seniors


Mental health: Why victims of mental health disorders age (and die) prematurely

This analysis was written by Thomas Barnay, associate researcher at the Institut Santé-Travail de Paris Est, professor of economics at the University of Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne (UPEC) and Éric Defebvre, lecturer in Economic Sciences at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.

The original article was published on The Conversation website.

Declaration of interests

This research received funding from the "Demographic Transitions, Economic Transitions" Chair (TDTE).

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