Relationship between employment histories and frailty trajectories in later life: evidence from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing

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Abstract

Background

Given the acceleration of population ageing and policy changes to extend working lives, evidence is needed on the ability of older adults to work for longer. To understand more about the health impacts of work, this study examined the relationship between employment histories before retirement and trajectories of frailty thereafter.

Methods

The sample comprised 2765 women and 1621 men from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. We used gendered typologies of life-time employment and a frailty index (FI). Multilevel growth curve models were used to predict frailty trajectories by employment histories.

Results

Women who had a short break for family care, then did part-time work till 59 years had a lower FI after 60 years than those who undertook full-time work until 59 years. Women who were largely family carers or non-employed throughout adulthood, had higher levels of frailty at 60 years but experienced a slower decline with age. Men who worked full-time but early exited at either 49 or 60 years had a higher FI at 65 years than those who worked full-time up to 65 years. Interaction between employment histories and age indicated that men in full-time work who experienced an early exit at 49 tended to report slower declines.

Conclusions

For women, experiencing distinct periods throughout the lifecourse of either work or family care may be advantageous for lessening frailty risk in later life. For men, leaving paid employment before 65 years seems to be beneficial for decelerating increases in frailty thereafter. Continuous full-time work until retirement age conferred no long-term health benefits.

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