Work Ability Trajectories and Retirement Pathways: A Longitudinal Analysis of Older American Workers

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To determine whether older workers who follow different work ability (WA) trajectories tend to follow different retirement pathways.


Nationally representative data on Americans born between 1943 and 1948. Latent class growth modeling to estimate trajectories of work ability between ages 53–54 and 65–66. Multinomial log-linear models to assess the association between WA trajectories and retirement pathways.


Three WA trajectories were identified: high (74%), declining (17%), and low (9%). Low WA leads more often to an early-gradual retirement. Declining WA leads to both early-gradual and early-crisp retirements.


Workers with low and declining WA are more at risk of unemployment, disability, and inactivity prior to retirement; workers with declining WA are also likely to make a direct transition to early retirement. Future changes to social security should consider inter-individual variation over time in WA.

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