Individualised pension age could improve social inequalities, research suggests

Extend project

Individualising the pension age and targeting health interventions at low-income workers are two ways of reducing social inequalities, a new research project involving the University of Sheffield has suggested.

The EXTEND (Social Inequalities in Extending Working Life of an Ageing Workforce) project investigated whether reforms aimed at extending our working lives increase social inequality and developed solutions to address them.

Professor Alan Walker and Dr Dan Holman from the University’s Department of Sociological Studies worked on the project alongside researchers in Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands.

Some of the key findings include:

  • People with a low socio-economic status have worse self-rated health after leaving work compared to those of a higher status
  • Higher social expenditure on old age, health, and benefits can mitigate the effects of lower socio-economic status
  • Companies that have introduced at least one age or health management policy are 20-30 per cent more productive than employers without such measures
  • Linking the pensionable age to life expectancy can increase social inequalities in some circumstances
  • High-earners are most likely to delay retirement in response to pensionable-age changes

In addition to the findings, the research team also proposed a series of innovative solutions, including changes to pension and retirement policies, aimed at improving the employability of an ageing workforce and new measures to encourage healthy ageing in the workplace.

Their recommendations include:

  • Individualising the pension age, taking into account a person’s life expectancy and factors that affect it such as occupation and education level
  • Targeting health interventions at low socio-economic status workers such as health and physical activity initiatives
  • Increasing spending on key welfare-state benefits and services to improve health and decrease post-retirement inequalities
  • Reducing physical demands on low socio-economic status workers and giving them greater autonomy and variation in their work

Dr Dan Holman, Research Associate in the University’s Department of Sociological Studies, said: “The issue of extending working lives is high on the policy agenda globally. Most governments in Europe, including the UK, have responded by closing early retirement pathways and raising state pension ages.

“Research by EXTEND suggests that this poses a serious risk to social inequality. Instead, our findings highlight a number of alternative policy solutions that could help to mitigate this risk and ensure that people are enabled to work longer in a fairer and more equitable way, in line with their capacity to do so.”

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Hannah Postles
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 1046