How retirement can affect self-esteem

by | Retirement

How retirement can affect self-esteem

This time I wanted to share a small aspect of my research.

Retirement is not a single event, but a process over time. It also means that we begin to be affected by this event as we prepare and then transition to retirement.

For most older people retirement is not only a transition between middle and late adulthood (65 and older) but is also associated with important psychological and interpersonal changes that may impact on an individuals’ self-esteem and well-being.

Self-esteem is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction and increased positive attitudes to retirement.

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When people have low levels of self-esteem, a lack of confidence can stop them achieving their goals. Professional development and coaching could support employees in the development of this at an earlier stage so helpful to them both whilst still working and later in life.

Self esteem

As I researched for my doctorate, much research suggests that this period is characterized by minor declines in self-esteem, which is used to describe a person’s overall sense of self-worth. But of course, this is based on survey data and there will always be individuals who are ‘outliers’ and get lost in large research projects.

Reviewing in more detail some of the papers I skimmed for my thesis I re-read a paper by Bleidorn and Schwaba (2018) who did a large quantitative study – Retirement Is Associated with Change in Self-Esteem. There findings were inconclusive, and they recognised that we can’t generalise; when looking at retirement we need to also look at individuals broader life – physical and psychological health, financial and social resources.

Preparing for retirement – impact of work

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For some people, under stress in their job, their self esteem may drop before retirement and then it improves when they move on from the stress of the job.  Free time allows people to find new ways of meaningful activity such as involvement with family or the community or to take on part time employment.

For other people, perhaps who identify strongly with their work role, self esteem may drop at retirement and in the transition and then improve as they adjust to their new role as retiree.

Volunteering is often seen as helping with self-esteem as it allows people to maintain connections through social engagement. Social relationships are a good source of self-esteem throughout life, so on retirement it is important to maintain or create new social connections.

Personality traits

People can be helped by personality traits, and with emotional stability, extraversion, being agreeable and conscientious can all support higher self-esteem.


People can also be helped by maintaining health and being physically active as decline in both has been associated with decreases in self-esteem.

My research

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Self-esteem is used to describe a person’s overall sense of self-worth. In the papers I reviewed for my systematic literature review I found promising evidence that self-esteem increases positive attitudes to retirement and can address some negative effects such as poor health and lack of financial security although these areas are also affected by social support, and perceived cognitive ability.

My research found that self-esteem is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction amongst retirees, so whilst still in work can employees be helped to increase levels of self-esteem, beneficial both in the workplace and later in retirement.

High levels of self-esteem may address some negative effects such as Individuals with higher and more positive self-esteem have intrinsic motives, self-esteem enhancement and self-congruency, to assume a more positive set of retirement attitudes.

A bit deeper than previous articles, but I felt this was an important aspect of my research to share. As always I’d be happy to answer any questions and to read your comments.

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Bleidorn, W., & Schwaba, T. (2018). Retirement is associated with change in self-esteem. Psychology and Aging, 33, 586-594.

Kim J.E., and Moen, P., (2001). Is Retirement Good or Bad for Subjective Well-being? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10(3) pp. 83–86.

Reitzes, D.C., & Mutran, E.J. (2004). The Transition to Retirement: Stages and Factors That Influence Retirement Adjustment. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 59(1), 63–84.

Wang, M., Henkens, K., & van Solinge, H. (2011). Retirement adjustment: A review of theoretical and empirical advancements. American Psychologist, 66(3), 204-213.

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Denise Taylor

Chief Inspiration Officer, The 50 Plus Coach.