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Working paper

Retirement, social support and mental wellbeing: a couple-level analysis

Retirement income Retirement Wellbeing Australia

Social support is increasingly acknowledged as an important resource for promoting wellbeing. Social capital and support may however decrease across the retirement transition if this results in the severance or disruption of existing ties and relationships. Conversely, social capital and support may increase if retirement provides new opportunities to strengthen existing ties or develop new relationships. Given this, we test whether social support changes around retirement. We also examine whether social support is an important factor for explaining dynamics in mental wellbeing around retirement and consider both own and spouse’s retirement.

Using longitudinal data from Australia, we find little effect of own or spouse’s retirement on social support. However, in fixed-effects models, dynamics in mental wellbeing are significantly different between those with low/high social support. Low social support types experience worsening mental wellbeing as they approach retirement, but improvements in wellbeing after retirement, on average. Further, for those eligible for the Age Pension, own retirement causally improves mental wellbeing for women (weaker evidence for men) and by a similar degree for those with low/high social support. The spillover benefits of spousal retirement on life satisfaction are much larger for individuals with low social support. This supports the idea that spousal retirement can improve wellbeing for people lacking social support, at least for retirements induced by Age Pension eligibility.

Retirement is a significant life event, and a rich body of literature has emerged around antecedents and consequences of retirement. While a range of outcomes have been examined, there has been little research on whether and how social support may evolve around retirement. Our paper provides novel evidence on the evolution of social support during own and spouse’s retirement, and its moderating effect on mental wellbeing.

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Life Course Centre Working Paper No. 2020-15