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Physical and cognitive capability in mid-adulthood as determinants of retirement and extended working life in a british cohort study

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Rachel CooperORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health. Objective Policy in many industrialized countries increasingly emphasizes extended working life. We examined associations between physical and cognitive capability in mid-adulthood and work in late adulthood. Methods Using self-reported physical limitations and performance-based physical and cognitive capability at age 53, assessed by trained nurses from the Medical Research Council (MRC) National Survey of Health and Development, we examined prospective associations with extended working (captured by age at and reason for retirement from main occupation, bridge employment in paid work after retirement from the main occupation, and voluntary work participation) up to age 68 among >2000 men and women. Results Number of reported physical limitations at age 53 was associated with higher likelihood of retiring for negative reasons and lower likelihood of participating in bridge employment, adjusted for occupational class, education, partner’s employment, work disability at age 53, and gender. Better performance on physical and cognitive tests was associated with greater likelihood of participating in bridge or voluntary work. Cognitive capability in the top 10% compared with the middle 80% of the distribution was associated with an odds ratio of bridge employment of 1.71 [95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.21–2.42]. Conclusions The possibility for an extending working life is less likely to be realized by those with poorer midlife physical or cognitive capability, independently of education, and social class. Interventions to promote capability, starting in mid-adulthood or earlier, could have long-term consequences for extending working.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Stafford M, Cooper R, Cadar D, Carr E, Murray E, Richards M, Stansfeld S, Zaninotto P, Head J, Kuh D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health

Year: 2017

Volume: 43

Issue: 1

Pages: 15-23

Print publication date: 01/01/2017

Online publication date: 30/08/2016

Acceptance date: 02/04/2016

Date deposited: 24/01/2022

ISSN (print): 0355-3140

ISSN (electronic): 1795-990X

Publisher: Nordic Association of Occupational Safety and Health


DOI: 10.5271/sjweh.3589

PubMed id: 27576104


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Funder referenceFunder name
MC_ UU_12019/3