How Do Life Events Affect Retirement Timing?

Insights Report
Research Dialogue

The timing of retirement is a major determinant of financial security. Yet workers’ actual retirement timing may be different than their expected time of retirement.


Retirement is a complex decision that depends on many hard-to-predict factors, including an individual’s work environment health status, family care needs, receipt of bequests, and working decisions of family members. Understanding how people navigate this uncertainty and how life events influence retirement decisions is the focus of this paper. The authors provide new evidence on the factors that shape expected retirement timing and how expectations evolve with age. They also assess how demographic, economic, and health characteristics can alter those expectations.

Key Insights

  • Older workers tend to expect to continue working to older ages than younger workers. 
  • Many health shocks—e.g., declines in health status, cancer, lung disease and arthritis—cause decreases in the likelihood of working past common retirement ages.
  • There is limited evidence that economic and family events significantly impact retirement expectations.

Several important events experienced by many people during working life impact the timing of retirement.


The authors leverage detailed survey data from the Health and Retirement Study to explore how people’s expectations about their retirement change after experiencing changes to their health, economic or family status.



Aspen Gorry

Clemson University

Jonathan M. Leganza

Clemson University

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