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What Is Retirement? A Review and Assessment of Alternative Concepts and Measures

  • Frank T. Denton
  • Byron G. Spencer

Since the concept of retirement is prominent in both popular thinking and academic studies it would be helpful if the notion were analytically sound, could be measured with precision, and would make possible comparisons of patterns of retirement over time and among different populations. This paper reviews and assesses the many concepts and measures that have been proposed, summarizing them in groupings that reflect nonparticipation or reduced participation in the labour force, receipt of pension income, endof- career employment, self-assessed retirement, or combinations of those characteristics. It concludes that there is no agreed measure and that no one measure dominates. Instead, new measures continue to be proposed to take account of additional refinements as new data sets become available, thereby further restricting possible comparisons. The confusing array of definitions reflects the practical problem that underlies the concept of retirement: it is an essentially negative notion, a notion of what people are not doing – namely, that they are not working. A more positive approach would be to focus instead on what people are doing, including especially their involvement in non-market activities that are socially productive, even if those activities do not contribute to national income as conventionally measured.

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File URL: http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/qsep/p/qsep427.pdf
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Paper provided by McMaster University in its series Quantitative Studies in Economics and Population Research Reports with number 427.

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Length: 38 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mcm:qseprr:427
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  1. Jeff Borland, 2005. "Transitions to Retirement: A Review," Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series wp2005n03, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne.
  2. Sarah Smith & James Banks, 2006. "Retirement in the UK," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 06/140, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
  3. Frank T. Denton & Byron G. Spencer, 2000. "Some Demographic Consequences of Revising the Definition of 'Old' to Reflect Future Changes in Life Table Probabilities," Quantitative Studies in Economics and Population Research Reports 352, McMaster University.
  4. Robin L. Lumsdaine & Olivia S. Mitchell, . "New Developments in the Economic Analysis of Retirement," Pension Research Council Working Papers 98-8, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
  5. Frank T. Denton & Byron G. Spencer, 1999. "Population Aging and Its Economic Costs: A Survey of the Issues and Evidence," Quantitative Studies in Economics and Population Research Reports 340, McMaster University.
  6. Baker, Michael & Benjamin, Dwayne, 1999. "Early Retirement Provisions and the Labor Force Behavior of Older Men: Evidence from Canada," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 17(4), pages 724-56, October.
  7. Sveinbjörn Blöndal & Stefano Scarpetta, 1999. "The Retirement Decision in OECD Countries," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 202, OECD Publishing.
  8. Emile Tompa, 1999. "Transitions to Retirement: Determinants of Age of Social Security Take Up," Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population Research Papers 6, McMaster University.
  9. Janice Compton, . "Determinants of Retirement: Does Money Really matter?," Working Papers-Department of Finance Canada 2001-02, Department of Finance Canada.
  10. Romina Boarini & Åsa Johansson & Marco Mira d'Ercole, 2006. "Alternative Measures of Well-Being," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 33, OECD Publishing.
  11. Romina Boarini & Åsa Johansson & Marco Mira d'Ercole, 2006. "Alternative Measures of Well-Being," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 476, OECD Publishing.
  12. Courtney Coile & Jonathan Gruber, 2007. "Future Social Security Entitlements and the Retirement Decision," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(2), pages 234-246, May.
  13. Marjorie Honig & Giora Hanoch, 1985. "Partial Retirement as a Separate Mode of Retirement Behavior," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 20(1), pages 21-46.
  14. Michael Baker & Jonathan Gruber & Kevin Milligan, 2001. "The Retirement Incentive Effects of Canada's Income Security Programs," NBER Working Papers 8658, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Sarah Tanner, 1998. "The dynamics of male retirement behaviour," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 19(2), pages 175-196, May.
  16. Asch, Beth & Haider, Steven J. & Zissimopoulos, Julie, 2005. "Financial incentives and retirement: evidence from federal civil service workers," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(2-3), pages 427-440, February.
  17. M. Shannon & D. Grierson, 2004. "Mandatory retirement and older worker employment," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 37(3), pages 528-551, August.
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