DOI: 10.1093/workar/waad022 ISSN: 2054-4650

Trajectories of Informal and Formal Social Participation After Retirement

Jeremy Lim-Soh, Shannon Ang, Rahul Malhotra
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Industrial relations


Literature suggests that on average, social participation declines after retirement. However, there likely remains substantial variability in individual experiences. We rely on seven waves of the Korean Longitudinal Study of Aging to identify contrasting social participation trajectories of individuals 45 years and older after leaving work, and their individual-level correlates. Informal and formal social participation were measured through self-reported frequencies of meeting a friend and attending a group respectively. Group-based trajectory modeling delineated heterogeneous changes over time and multinomial logit regressions estimated individual-level correlates of the trajectories. While a minority of respondents experienced trajectories of decreasing social participation (6%–12%), a majority exhibited stable trajectories (79%–81%), and some even experienced increasing participation (7%–8%). There was also a U-shaped trajectory of decline and recovery in formal social participation (7%). Our findings challenge the belief that disengagement is the norm and illustrate the heterogeneous experiences of social participation after retirement. Returning to work, vs. stopping work for an extended period, was associated with favorable trajectories, pointing to the strong connection between work and social participation, and the potential for interventions that promote bridge employment and lifelong learning. Interestingly, the high stable trajectory of informal participation was associated with certain factors that may be considered vulnerabilities, such as being older, female, single, living in non-metropolitan regions, and retiring from irregular work. This highlights the possibility that despite facing challenges, older adults can aspire towards high social participation.

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