Abstract: The Effect of Retirement on Loneliness: A Systematic Review (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

718P The Effect of Retirement on Loneliness: A Systematic Review

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Oejin Shin, MSW, Doctoral student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Jaesung Ahn, Doctoral student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL
Soonhyung Kwon, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL
Chi-Fang Wu, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL

As life expectancy is increasing, obtaining a high quality of life after retirement is an important issue in aging. However, current literature has shown inconsistent results about the quality of life after retirement. One of these contradictory results could be due to different measures of well-being. Loneliness is widely known as a unique risk factor among the older adult population. As a public health concern, loneliness in later life has been extensively examined as a major risk factor for mortality and morbidity among older adults. However, the evidence of the impact/correlation of retirement on loneliness has not yet been systematically summarized, and thus, has not yet been compared/contrasted from a more holistic perspective. Built upon previous work on retirement, we conducted the first systematic review of the relationship between retirement and loneliness. We hypothesized that retirement would have an association with a higher level of loneliness among older adults.


Electronic searches were conducted in September 2018 using PubMed, Web of Science, PsycINFO, Scopus, Cochrane library, and Family & Society Studies Worldwide. The search algorithm included all possible combinations of keywords from the following two groups (i) ‘retirement’, ‘retired’, ‘late life transition’, ‘retiree’, ‘retirees’, and (ii) ‘loneliness’, ‘aloneness’, ‘emotional isolation, ‘social isolation’, ‘solitude’, and ‘lonely’. The search was limited to peer-reviewed articles, examined the relationship between retirement and loneliness, published in English, and used quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-methods as well as theoretical/conceptual work. Titles and abstracts were screened for 779 unduplicated articles from the initial search, 59 studies were retained for a full review with nine studies being selected for the systematic review. The search followed the PRISMA paradigm. Two reviewers independently extracted data from all studies and assessed the quality of research with key study characteristics (e.g., research question, sample, measure). Disagreements were resolved through consensus and consultation with a third reviewer.


Nine studies met search criteria involving 37,638 participants (median=748) and most were published since 2000. There were one qualitative design and eight quantitative design studies. Of the studies, four showed moderate evidence of a positive relationship between retirement and increased levels of loneliness. In addition, we also found moderate evidence of a partial positive relationship, which refers to the positive relationship between retirement and loneliness within certain conditions. Demographic characteristics in the retired population played a significant role in aggravating or ameliorating the sense of loneliness.


The findings from this systematic literature review indicated moderate evidence of the positive relationship which supports the previous literature that found retirement was negatively associated with mental health and well-being. The moderate evidence of the partial positive relationship implies the importance of examining the social and individual factors of retirees to understand the conditions of post-retirement. More studies which take into account voluntariness of retirement and other moderating factors, including individual and social contextual factors, are needed to advance this literature. Further research is also needed to examine the possible mechanisms by investigating how the individual and contextual factors of retirees improved well-being in postretirement.