Would more flexibility in working hours extend people’s working lives?

Moritz Hess, Jürgen Bauknecht and Sebastian Pink explore whether working lives could be extended if there was more flexibility in the hours people work later in in their lives.


Reducing working hours in the last phase of the career is seen a possibility to extend working lives.

The main argument is that older workers might not be able to work 40 hours a week in a factory or a nursing home until the age of 65, but could do 20 hours, because work-related pressure and stress decreases when they work less. So shifting from full to part-time work at the end of the work-life might delay retirement.

This is something policy makers would like to happen as the aging of societies is putting pressure on the financial sustainability of Europe’s public pension systems. In particular, pay-as-you-go public pensions face problems such as worsening dependency ratios, and employers are increasingly confronted with a shortage of skilled labour.

However, so far the argument that shifting to part-time work results in later retirement has not been empirically tested.

Using data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), we investigated whether flexibility in working hours delays retirement timing and extends working lives. Beside United Kingdom, the data we used also came from Austria, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Estonia.

We found that shifting from full to part-time does not delay retirement.

On the contrary, those older workers who reduced working hours did retire half a year earlier even when adjusting for gender, age and educational differences. In addition, the results also show that the institutional and country context matter, as the sizes of the effect varies between countries.

Hence, promoting part-time work in the late career cannot be considered a successful tool of extending working lives and promoting active aging.

Policy makers, trade unions, and employers should be careful when implementing programs that foster part-time work in old age. We conclude that part-time work at the end of the career, as a means to extend working life, should be re-evaluated.

For more details, please see the article Working Hours Flexibility and Timing of Retirement: Findings from Europe published in the Journal of Aging and Social Policy.

Data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing is available from the UK Data Service.

Dr. Moritz Hess is a post-doctoral researcher and head of the research unit “Work, Economy and Technology” at the Institute of Gerontology at the Technical University of Dortmund.



Jürgen Bauknecht is professor for social policy and socio-economic framework conditions at Fliedner Fachhochschule Düsseldorf.




Dr. Sebastian Pink is a post-doctoral researcher at the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research at the University of Mannheim.


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