Men and women of working age, living in regional areas are more likely to be fully retired because of ill health than their city counterparts, University of Sydney research shows.
"We believe this study, recently published in the Journal of Public Health, is the first to examine in detail the relationship between where people live and their full or partial retirement due to ill-health," said lead author Dr Sabrina Pit, from the Centre for Rural Health, School of Public Health, at the University of Sydney.
The research also investigates which of a wide range of health problems are more likely to be associated with full and partial early retirement.
"Our findings could be used by health practitioners, governments and employers to address specific health problems and reduce early retirement due to ill health, particularly in areas outside capital cities."
Men and women living outside major cities were more likely to be fully retired due to ill-health than people in major cities and men from outer regional areas were more likely to be partially retired due to ill-health than their city counterparts.
The proportion of working aged men fully retired due to ill-health in cities is five percent, eight percent for inner regional areas and nine for outer regional areas. For fully retired working aged women the percentages were four percent for the city, five percent for inner regional and six percent for outer regional areas.
"Our study found that the largest association with early retirement due to ill-health for men and women was stroke, followed by 'other' cancers (cancers other than melanoma, skin and breast cancer).
Women who reported having been told by a doctor that they had a stroke, 'other' cancer (see above), osteoarthritis, depression, osteoporosis, thrombosis, or anxiety were more likely to be fully retired due to ill-health compared to those without these health problems.
Men who reported having had a stroke, 'other' cancer, heart disease, anxiety, depression, diabetes, thyroid problems, osteoarthritis or osteoporosis were more likely to be fully retired due to ill-health compared to those without these health problems.
Overall there was a higher number of statistically significant associations between health problems and early retirement due to ill-health for men than for women.
The study analysed self-reported data of 21,719 women and 16,393 men from the Sax Institute's 45 and Up Study of people aged 45 to 65 with common statistical characteristics living in New South Wales. The study was set up as a long-term collaborative resource to examine healthy ageing, including in retirement.
In 2008, a study reported in Medical Journal of Australia estimated that 663,235 older Australians were not working because of ill-health and that this reduced Australia's GDP by around $14.7 billion a year.
"Retirement is influenced by a multitude of factors of which health is one. While delaying retirement is not always in the best interest of those suffering illness, or their employers, we need to find better ways to keep people with health problems in the workforce," said Dr Pit.
"Our research could inform health policies for mature-age workers aimed at reducing early retirement. Government spending on pensions and disability payments could be reduced by putting in place more programs that specifically address health problems leading to early retirement."
Another strategy suggested by the researchers is that employers and occupational health and safety officers could make work environments more suitable for people with specific health problems.
"Our results could also be used by managers of large pension/superannuation or private health funds to support people who are at higher risk of early retirement. For example, an industry-specific fund could subsidise health promotion programs in its industry that reduce the likelihood of people retiring early."