Recent retirees feel strongly about the feeling of being able to control their own lives. They are careful to say yes to new obligations, including caring for grandchildren.
Recent retirees feel strongly about the feeling of being able to control their own lives. They are careful to say yes to new obligations, including caring for grandchildren.

What makes a good life in retirement?

A Norwegian researcher has investigated what makes recent retirees happy with their lives.

Published

-Many people have a good life when they retire. But not everyone.

For some, the transition is too big.

Lars Bauger has studied older adults and their retirement. The researcher at the University of South-Eastern Norway finds that a majority of new retirees have the same quality of life as they did when they worked. But that’s not the case for everyone.

The media and financial folks are very concerned about retirees’ finances. But perhaps people should think more about their social life when they retire, Bauger says.

“This is, after all, also very important for most of us,” Bauger says.

Phasing out of the workforce

Bauger notes that there are many more ways to retire now than before.

And that can be good, he says. Bauger has interviewed both recent Norwegian pensioners and studied international research on the same topic for his doctoral dissertation.

In the past, many were happy to be employed one day and to retire the next. This is rarely the case now.

Bauger sees that many older people work less for a period before leaving the workforce for good. They are phasing out of the workforce and phasing into retirement.

More than just finances

Research has shown that the transition from working life to retirement can be a major change for many.

“For that reason, you might want to try it out a little beforehand, by reducing the amount you work, just as many people are doing nowadays,” he says.

“And it might be good to think a little about how you want to spend all that free time you’ll suddenly have. You should definitely do this before you suddenly find yourself retired,” the researcher says.

Many older adults are concerned about what their finances will be like when they retire. They are reminded of this in countless articles in the tabloid newspapers and by pension preparation courses.

Lars Bauger thinks it may be good to phase in retirement before leaving the workforce for good.
Lars Bauger thinks it may be good to phase in retirement before leaving the workforce for good.

But more people should think about what it will mean psychologically — and socially — not to go to work, the researcher says.

A relief for some

More and more research is being conducted on the quality of life for pensioners.

Lars Bauger has assessed much of this research — and found some clear patterns.

One is that about 75 per cent of all elderly have roughly the same quality of life, before, during and after their retirement.

“But if you had a stressful or tiring job that contributed to lowering your quality of life, you’ll probably experience retirement as a relief,” says Bauger.

Tougher for others

Others may have the opposite problem.

“Some people feel that going out the door to work for the last time precipitates a drop in their quality of life. But the research shows that after a while, most get used to all the free time they have as retirees. At that point, their quality of life returns to what it was before they retired,” he says.

However, about 10 per cent of all retirees are never as satisfied with their lives again as when they were working.

This group of pensioners typically identified strongly with their profession. They experience the day they can no longer call themselves a doctor or practicing lawyer as a downfall.

Bauger says for this group, it matters a lot whether retirement is something you choose for yourself, or is something you have to do.

“It also means a lot to many if they have a partner to share their retirement time with,” he says.

“It also does matter what kind of finances you have as a pensioner. Research shows that people whose finances are robust as pensioners are more socially active and perhaps also more physically active,” he says.

A healthy body and freedom

Bauger conducted thorough interviews with nine people who had all recently retired.

By analysing their stories, he found some shared success factors that contributed to having a good life as a retiree.

“It means a lot to have a healthy body. This is not the same as not having aches and pains. But it means a lot to have a body that you feel works,” says Bauger.

These new pensioners, who were 67 years old on average, all had the feeling that they had solved the challenge they faced when they suddenly had a lot more time on their hands. None of the people Bauger interviewed had trouble filling the new time they had at their disposal.

The newly retired pensioners also felt strongly about the feeling of being able to control their own lives.

“It's a good feeling for most people,” says Bauger.

Retirees would like to have a good relationship with their children and good contact with their grandchildren. But some said they protected themselves from others who could take control of their lives. They are careful to say yes to new obligations, including caring for grandchildren.

Better health during retirement

Swedish researcher Isabelle Hansson at the University of Gothenburg has investigated how health and well-being are affected in the years before and after retirement.

She has also found that most people do better in the years right after they become retired. They report less stress and fewer depressive symptoms — and a generally better quality of life.

Particularly for those who have little influence over their own work situation, it can be a relief to not have to go to work. This is because they now have greater freedom to decide what to do with their daily lives.

Jobs affect some people’s health more than others

Norwegian researchers have also found the same result. Maja Weemes Grøtting and her colleagues at Oslo Metropolitan University found that people with typical working-class occupations experience health benefits from retiring early.

They often have a job that is physically demanding and where they have little control over their work day. They have to go to work and do the same thing every day, regardless of how they are feeling that day. They can’t work from a home office or spread their work throughout the week.

“For these people, the job probably has more of an effect on their health than if you can put your work aside based on how you’re feeling that day, as I, as a researcher, can do,” says Grøtting.

Connecting seniors and volunteers

There will be many more elderly people in the population in the years to come, both in Norway and throughout the Western world.

“That means there will also be a lot more elderly people with a lot of resources,” Bauger says. “We’ll probably see then that there are even more ways to grow older.”

The retirees he interviewed said they would like to be there for other people. They want to make other people's lives meaningful. They also want others to help give their own lives meaning.

Several of the new retirees the researcher interviewed said they would find it meaningful to volunteer.

But they didn’t know how.

“Many organizations need older volunteers. The challenge is to connect new pensioners to the voluntary activity that already exists in the community,” Bauger says.

Translated by: Nancy Bazilchuk

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no