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Unemployment is known to be associated with poor health and disability. The aim of this study was to examine the risk of disability retirement by past unemployment in different socioeconomic groups.Disability retirees aged 25–64 years were drawn from the years 2011–2015 (n=74.460) to trace back their unemployment histories during the 6 preceding years. Conditional logistic regression was used to compare the risk for disability retirement by pre-retirement unemployment (lasting 90+ days per year) among the retirees and sex-age matched controls drawn from the non-retired population.Unemployment increased during the six years preceding disability retirement but collapsed during the last pre-retirement year as the persons applying for pension moved on to disability benefits (i.e. sickness allowance). Unemployment increased also among the controls as the study population grew older during the follow up. However, there was no temporal trend in the level of pre-retirement unemployment among those who retired during the study years 2011–2015. Among manual workers, unemployment was more common than lower or upper non-manual employees or the self-employed in all years preceding disability retirement. However, unemployment was more common in the respective groups also among the matched controls. Among upper non-manual employees and the self-employed, unemployment more than doubled the risk of disability retirement whereas among manual workers and lower non-manual employees unemployment was only weakly related to disability retirement. Unemployment is most common among manual workers but among upper-non manual employees and self-employed who experience unemployment have an increased risk of disability retirement.