The transition from employment to retirement in Europe has significantly changed in last three decades. Not only are years of service extending and the retirement age increasing, but pensions are also falling and they no longer guarantee decent life in many European countries. Retirement is a breaking point in a variety of ways: psychologically, it is seen as a developmental task, as a longer-term process, or a critical life event (Filipp and Olbrich, 1986), sociologically, the loss of identifying activities points to the loss of self, the loss of worthwhile projects that reflected one’s personality, also the loss of the meaning of life (Wijngaarden, Leget and Gossensen, 2015), and primarily as ‘a significant cut in their biographies’ (Schmidt-Hertha and Rees, 2017) that used to define men more but nowadays, because of their higher levels of employment, strongly defines women, too. Despite all the facts and research and with the clear transformations in social life and the increasingly more present re-definitions of gender identity and gender capital, politicians and the wider society in many countries (particularly in eastern Europe with no institutionalized pre-retirement programmes etc.) pretend that retirement is not a relevant or noteworthy change.

Krajnc (2016) acknowledges that making new meaning of life is a necessary preparation for a successful transition to retirement. Forcing older people to a social and psychological death after the retirement by not giving them an opportunity to fully experience the new life situation that they are entering can be devastating not only for them, but also for our society and the state (Krajnc, 2016). In their quantitative research study of more than 2.000 interviewees (men and women) aged between 50 and 69 years from Germany, Schmidt-Hertha and Rees (2017) found that satisfaction with the workplace in all stages of the career, positive perception of work and high personal identification with the workplace are crucial elements on the path to retirement or motivation for delaying retirement. This can also be seen facing the newly appearing practices of bridge employment (part-time work before retirement) and re-careering (second career after legal retirement) (Boveda and Metz, 2016). ‘Facing a pluralisation of transitions to the after-working phase of life, including different forms of intermediate stages, educational programs to design the transition and the stage of life after work, seems to be more relevant than ever.’ (Schmidt-Hertha and Rees, 2017, 51)

Also unpaid work and volunteering can be vital to the quality of older adults’ lives, especially if they can find self-realisation in such activities. Numerous longitudinal studies demonstrate a positive impact of volunteering on the quality of life (Moen, Dempster-McClain and Williams, 1992; Musick, Herzog and House, 1999; Van Willigen, 2000), while some studies evaluate it economically (Goth and Småland, 2014), proving that older adults are not only factors in the social development, but also economically relevant supporters and enormously important contributors to the community.

From above presented starting points, ELOA 2019 will study and discuss the following themes:

Theme 1:
Silver productivity and lifelong learning: Re-careering, bridge employment, silver economy, survival strategies, autonomous work/productivity in later life etc.

Theme 2:
Transitions to retirement: Evaluation of the pre-retirement programs, retirement as a significant cut in senior’s biographies, doing retirement[1], etc.

Besides already definded themes, 10th Conference of the ELOA will merge with the multiplier event of the Erasmus+ project Old Guys Say Yes to Community, developed by four partners from the ELOA network.[2] It will thematise the pluralisation of transition to the after-working life phase with the emphasis on gender capital and the need to re-define gender capital in the third and fourth life stage. As revieled by the study Old Guys Say Yes to Community, significantly fewer men in the third and fourth life stages than women of the same age realise the importance of lifelong learning and of the advantages of active participation in the community. The low participation rates of older men in organised learning programmes and other free-time activities are evident from a number of research studies (Merriam and Kee, 2014; Schuller and Desjardins, 2007; Tett and Maclachlan, 2007), many of which link this to the men’s quality of life, which is lower than the opportunities available to them in their environments otherwise allow (Courtenay, 2000; Golding 2011a, 2011b; Oliffe and Han, 2014). Research also demonstrates that older men marginalise, isolate and alienate themselves more frequently than their female partners (McGivney, 2004; Williamson, 2011; Vandervoort, 2012; Holwerda et al., 2012), that they are more likely to be subjected to loneliness (Wang et al., 2002; Paúl and Ribeiro, 2009) and that they increasingly rely on their wives and life partners, depending on them emotionally as well as in terms of care, etc. (Vandervoort, 2012; Dettinger and Clarkberg, 2002).

Various statistical data, too, confirm that older men are less active than women. The largest discrepancy, in women’s favour, in participation in the community programmes of active ageing in the countries monitored by Eurostat found are in Sweden (14%), Denmark (9.9%), Finland (7.7%), Iceland (7%), Estonia (5.5%) and France (4.9%) (Eurostat, 2017). Although men are more active than women in Croatia, Germany, Turkey and Switzerland, the difference is practically negligible (between 0.2 and 0.6%) (Eurostat, 2017) and should be considered from cultural and religious aspects – but mainly through gender capital.[3] The discrepancy in Slovenia is 3% in women’s favour (Eurostat, 2017), but men’s participation in various organised programmes of active ageing is substantially more limited: the average share of men in Activity Day Centres in Ljubljana is 15%, while Adult Education Centres and the Third Age University are similarly perceived as predominantly women’s organisations managed by women. The reasons for men’s non-participation in the existing activities are, among others, the feminisation of the learning programmes and their staff (Carragher and Golding, 2015; Owens, 2000), the negative perception of their schooling in the past (Mark and Golding, 2012; McGivney, 1999, 2004), the weakening of cognitive and social capital, which is part of the ageing process and which determines men more than women (Merriam and Kee, 2014; Schuller and Desjardins, 2007; Tett and Maclachlan, 2007), etc.

In view of all the reasons it is important to establish why older men in a number of countries, including Slovenia, have been, essentially speaking, excluded as relevant participants in society, because the consequences of their marginalisation are dramatic. The men’s exclusion and inactivity in the third and fourth life stages have a significant impact on the quality of their lives, on cognitive and mental capital (Golding, 2011a, 2011b, Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project, 2008), on emotional well-being (Williamson, 2011) and, of course, most importantly, on their health (Coutenay, 2000; Giles et al., 2005; Golden, Conroy and Lawlor, 2009; Schmidt-Hertha and Rees, 2017). Numerous social factors strongly influence health quality, too. In their meta-analytic review of 148 studies, Holt-Lunstad, Smith and Layton (2010) concluded that individuals with sufficient interpersonal relationships have a 50% increased likelihood of survival compared to those who are lonely.

Among the best examples of men’s (self-)organisation and its advantages scientific literature quotes the development of the Men’s Sheds mass movement in Australia (Golding, 2015; Golding, Mark and Foley, 2014), which has spread to Ireland, Scandinavia, the USA and Canada. Many researchers of men’s sheds have demonstrated, similarly to the findings of the Old Guys project, that men need (self-organised) spaces in which they can substitute for the lack of  performance (the ‘career of male domination’) that is so important to them. There they can overcome the fear of having to prove themselves (again) and/or admit to not having their previous roles and adapt to the new ones (Gregorčič, Jelenc Krašovec, Radovan and Močilnikar, 2018). Most of all, however, they can mutually strengthen their mental capital – in addition to the already emphasised positive aspects of active ageing (Lum and Lightfoot, 2005; Ybarra et al., 2008; Williamson, 2011), the sense of belonging and the community (Goth and Småland, 2014), they can empower one another and, last but not least, prove to themselves that they are still needed and valued in contemporary society (Gottlieb and Gillespie, 2008).

The scientific and professional research suggests the need for men’s clubs, men’s sheds, men’s spaces and activities, men’s counselling centres and even safe houses where men can socialise with each other (Reynolds, Mackenzie, Medved and Roger, 2015) and mutual support and where they can self-organise and redefine masculine capital to achieve older men’s empowerment, etc. (Hanlon, 2012; Ribeiro, Paúl and Nogueira, 2007; Carragher and Golding, 2015; Huppatz and Goodwin, 2013; Jelenc Krašovec and Radovan, 2014). Additionally, in many countries instead of developing plurality of transitions to retirement with part-time or occasional employment, older adults are forced to work illegally because of poverty and adopt other survival strategies. Various studies indicate numerous ways of being an old guy in contemporary societies as well as many tendencies towards a redefinition of gender capital, work (employment) and retirement.

From above presented outlines of the Old Guys project, ELOA 2019 will study and discuss the following two themes:

Theme 3:
Re-defining masculine and feminine capital after the retirement and the importance of learning, doing and creating for mental health.

Theme 4:
The role of community participation and engagement after the retirement.

Academic contributions addressing one or more of the topics mentioned above are cordially welcome.

Prepared by dr. Marta Gregorčič & dr. Bernhard Schmidt-Hertha


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[1] See Wanka et al. 2018.

[2] Erasmus+, Strategic Partnership for Adult Education, agreement number: 16-KA204-021604, case number: KA2-AE-9/16 run by the University of Ljubljana and in collaboration with the Slovenian Association of Adult Educators, the University of Algarve (Portugal), the University of Wrocław (Poland), Tallinn University and the Association of Estonian Adult Educators – ANDRAS (Estonia). The project has been coordinated, since September 2016. The aim of the research was to find out how to improve the participation of older men (aged 60 years or more) in the local community and, in particular, how to encourage older men’s socialisation, informal learning and inclusion in the organisations which are not primarily meant for education and learning in the third and fourth life stages.

[3] According to Huppatz and Goodwin (2013), gender capital may be an extremely useful concept for exploring men’s and women’s movement through occupational social spaces, and thus sheds light on the continuity and reproduction of occupational segregation.