Unmet Expectations about Work at Age 62 and Depressive Symptoms

Leah R. Abrams, Philippa J. Clarke, Neil K. Mehta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Objectives: Exiting the labor force earlier or later than planned is common, with predictable economic consequences. However, the mental health ramifications of such off-time events are not known but are important to promoting well-being in retirement. Methods: Using the Health and Retirement Study (1992-2016), we created 6 groups based on the alignment of expectations about full-time work at age 62 (reported at ages 51-61) with realized labor force status after reaching age 62 (N = 10,421). Negative binomial models estimated the adjusted association between unmet expectations about work and depressive symptoms. Results: Unexpectedly not working was associated with higher depressive symptoms than working as expected after adjusting for sociodemographic, economic, and health factors at the time of expectations (incidence rate ratio = 1.35, 95% confidence interval: 1.17-1.56). Additionally, adjusting for health declines and marriage dissolution between expectations and age 62 partially attenuated the association, but unexpectedly not working remained significantly associated with a 1.16 increase in the incidence rate of depressive symptoms. Unexpectedly working at 62 was not associated with depressive symptoms. Race/ethnicity interacted with expectation alignment (F(15,42) = 2.44, p =. 0118) in that Hispanic respondents experienced an increase in depressive symptoms when working after unmet and unsure expectations compared to met expectations, whereas White respondents did not. Discussion: Unlike working longer than expected, unexpectedly not working at age 62 was associated with depressive symptoms, even after accounting for health declines. Public and employer policies should assist workers in remaining in the labor force as long as planned and offer mental health supports for unexpected work exits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)615-625
Number of pages11
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022


  • Depression
  • Expectations
  • Mental health
  • Retirement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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