Bridge Employment and Retirees’ Health

Zhan, Y., Wang, M., Liu, S., & Schultz, K. S. (2009). Bridge employment and retirees’ health: A longitudinal investigation. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 14(4), 374-389.

As populations age in many countries throughout the world, researchers are seeking to identify strategies for maintaining good health in older adults. Studies investigating predictors of health during retirement have found better health outcomes for those who have higher socioeconomic status, greater social support, and involvement in postcareer activities. Yet, little is known about the health implications of the increasingly common practice of “bridge employment.” Bridge employment refers to taking on part-time work, self-employment, or temporary employment after retiring from one’s career job. Studies of the consequences of bridge employment have focused primarily on mental health outcomes. Zhan, Wang, Liu, and Schultz (2009) used longitudinal data from a large, national sample of American nonretired, partially retired, and retired individuals to explore both mental and physical health consequences of bridge employment. As hypothesized, retirees who participated in bridge employment had fewer major diseases, fewer functional limitations to daily life tasks, and better mental health than those who retired completely. The physical health benefits of bridge employment held regardless of whether the individual continued in their career field or entered a different field, whereas the mental health benefits were only found for individuals whose bridge employment was in their career field. The authors suggested that bridge employment may help to maintain health by providing retirees with social contact and support as well as fewer disruptions of daily life activities. Although the authors controlled for baseline levels of health in their study, they acknowledged that in addition to bridge employment’s effect on health status, health status may also influence the decision to take on bridge employment. The authors recommended that programs be established to educate retirees about the potential benefits of bridge employment and to facilitate their postretirement participation in the workforce.

Making Connections

Correlation and causation
Social support

Media Supplement

The PBS series Retirement Revolution: The New Reality explores changing perceptions of and strategies for retirement following the 2008 financial meltdown. The companion website provides stories of individuals and families, interviews with experts, and additional resources on retirement.