Employment histories influence health. However, most studies have so far investigated cross-sectional associations between employment histories and health, failing to recognize health as a dynamic process in later life.
We use Waves 3–8 of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, including retrospective information on respondents’ employment activities. We used dynamic hamming distances to summarize lifetime employment histories up to state pension age (64 for men and 59 for women). Multilevel growth curve models were then used to estimate the influence of lifetime employment histories on later life health trajectories over a 10-year period using quality of life (QoL), somatic health, and depression.
Net of selection effect and a host of contemporaneous material and social resources, men who exited early started off with poorer health than those with continuous attachment to the labour market but had a very similar health profile by the end of the 10-year period considered. Among women, better somatic health and higher QoL were observed among those who had employment breaks for family care, and this health advantage was maintained over time. Lifetime employment histories are not related to depression for either men or women.
Overall, differences in health by employment histories level off only among men who left earlier and those continuously employed. Flexible arrangements for men in poor health who benefit from leaving the labour market early and supporting women who wish to take breaks for family care may help reduce health inequalities in later life.