Experts say that mental health problems in childhood and young adulthood can influence workforce participation in later life.
Two reports have highlighted the link between behaviour, depression and trauma in children as young as seven, and unemployment by the age of 55.
The reports highlight the fact that flexible working, which could help to alleviate some of the issues faced by those suffering from mental health problems, is far from common practice and for some workers it is impractical.
Both reports, published by the International Longevity Centre, found physical and mental illness at younger ages can have a significant impact on employment trajectories in later life.
The documents – Exploring Retirement Transitions based on research from the Uncertain Futures consortium, and Working For Everyone: Addressing Barriers and Inequalities in the Extended Working Lives Agenda compiled by the renEWL research team – say reforms in pensions and flexible working could help people to stay in work for longer. The Uncertain Futures team are calling for employers to conduct “pre-retirement check-ups” for staff approaching the state pension age and for the Government to explore options for earlier withdrawal of the state pension.
'Life-long approach needed from mental health services'
The renEWL research consortium are calling on the Government to ensure that mental health strategies adopt a life course approach.
Professor Jenny Head from University College London, head of the renEWL team, said: “We hope our findings will inform strategies to reduce inequalities in employment rates of older workers, including support for both children and adults with mental health problems.”
Both reports include analysis of the National Child Development Study, a cohort study of 98% of births in England, Scotland and Wales during a week in March 1958, with participants followed up throughout their lives. The analysis found that children as young as seven whose parents and teachers reported them showing signs of depression, worry or withdrawal are more likely to be unemployed at age 55.
In addition, children displaying these problems are also at an increased risk of being permanently off work sick at 55, while children reported for disobedience, aggressiveness or bullying have an increased risk for unemployment, permanent sickness and being homemakers than children not reported showing these behaviours.
The researchers also found traumatic events in childhood, such as physical or sexual abuse, parental absence or parental divorce are also associated with reduced working at 55, even when considering factors such as gender, education and socioeconomic position.
Professor Sarah Vickerstaff from Kent University, head of the Uncertain Futures team, said: “In the popular imagination the process of retirement has changed dramatically, with working full-time and then just stopping, being a thing of the past. But the evidence suggests that this is an exaggeration and access to flexible work or gradual retirement is untypical.”