June 26th 2018
Health and working longer

The likelihood of health problems increases with age. Working longer may then be difficult. Measures like exercising at work or career development workshops can support people in working longer. The Health Council of the Netherlands advises to focus on such measures. Though, that asks for tailoring since there is a large diversity in health at a higher age.

People are at increased risk of having more than one condition when ageing and there are health differences between higher and lower educated people. The Health Council of the Netherlands recommends to explore whether flexible pensions are a better option when considering the large diversity in health at a higher age.

Executive summary

Because the population is living longer than before, these past few years government policy has increasingly been aimed at working longer. At the request of the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, the appointed committee will give advice on what is necessary from a health perspective when it comes to working longer. How do health and working longer influence each other and what role does a person’s level of education play in this? What are the potential conditions and possible measures that support the employability of older workers?

Because the extension of the statutory retirement age has only recently been implemented, there is virtually no research on actually working longer. That is why the committee is basing its findings on indicators of decreased employability, such as an increased need for recovery or more sickness absence.

Health and being able to work longer

Health at a higher age

The likelihood of health problems increases with age. This applies not only to illness, but also poor perceived health, physical limitations, or decreased cognitive functions. Older people also have a higher chance of having more than one health problem at the same time. There is a lot of diversity within this group when it comes to health.
People between 45 and 75 years of age are currently not that much healthier than people in the same age range were two decades ago. Based on the predicted future developments in health, the committee does not expect to see much change in the next 10 to 20 years.

Health in relation to working longer

Poor health decreases the employability of workers. For part of the 55 to 65-year-olds that exit paid employment before the official retirement age, health plays an important role. It mainly concerns people who exit paid employment via disability benefit due to health problems, but in part also people who exit via unemployment. It is estimated that in 16 to 27% of people between 55 and 65 who stop working due to unemployment, poor health played an important role. People who become unemployed later in life have a smaller chance of finding a new job, especially when they have health problems.

Working longer in relation to health

Health not only has an effect on whether or not a person is able to work longer, but working longer can also have an effect on a person’s health. However, we cannot say for certain what the exact health effects of working longer are. Working seems to be good for your mental health during your working age, but around the age of retirement, it appears to be more beneficial for your mental health if you stop working.

Other conditions for working longer

Besides health, there are other potential conditions to work longer. Financial stimulants seem to play an important role when it comes to working longer. Individual factors, such as a healthy lifestyle and the motivation to work, and organisational factors, such as decent working conditions and sufficient flexibility at work, also play an important role. These factors can offer starting points for supportive measures.

Measures aimed at employability of older workers

The supportive measures that are already being implemented at an individual and organisational level – such as exercising at work and career development workshops – appear to generally have small positive effects on the employability of older workers. However, it has not yet been identified which measures are most effective for which people at what point of their careers. Research also cannot determine in what working situations the measures are most effective.

Low educated: a group that requires special attention

The committee sees low-educated older workers as a group that requires special attention when it comes to working longer. Low-educated older people generally have more health problems than those with a higher education level. They often work under less favourable working conditions, starting at a younger age. For example, their jobs are often more physically demanding and they generally have less flexibility at work. However, problems with employability are not solely reserved for those with a lower degree of education.


Because working longer is not self-evident for everyone, the committee sees roles for workers and employers, as well as the government. The committee’s advice is to focus on measures that support workers when it comes to working longer. Thus far, the positive effects of such measures have been relatively small, but the committee sees room to develop more effective measures, combined with a good implementation. More flexibility at work is a promising starting point, as well as a personnel policy aimed at sustainable employability starting early in peoples’ careers.

The committee also recommends to explore whether flexible pensions are a better option when considering the large diversity in health at a higher age, and the large differences in health between lower and higher educated people.
A specific topic to explore would be whether flexible pensions could prevent health-related exit from work via unemployment.