Who tells me whether I should stay or go? Structure and agency in teachers' work-retirement transitions in Germany and the UK

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


How do individuals conceptualise the nature and timing of their work-retirement transition? Do they exercise choice or are decisions bound by institutional structures and societal expectations? We suggest that an interplay of agency and structure influences decision-making processes. Employing both Archer’s concept of the internal conversation and reflexivity and life-course theory, we develop a conceptual framework that accounts for both structure and agency. This model is used to explore factors in individuals’ national institutional, organisational and individual-level contexts, and to assess how these interact with and influence choice over work and retirement.
Using a qualitative multi-level case study design and a thematic analysis approach, we analyse 20 biographical interviews with school teachers aged 50+ as well as 26 semi-structured interviews with HR managers and head teachers in two school districts in Germany and the United Kingdom. We found that teachers´ work-retirement transitions are influenced by individually-specific though overall similar factors, including stress and financial background. However, British and German teachers use divergent strategies to approach work-retirement transitions, mirroring their respective institutional contexts. British teachers were mostly able to employ agency within an overall enabling institutional structure to adapt career transitions to individual needs. German teachers had fewer opportunities to choose due to a more restricting institutional structure. The findings suggest that career decisions are shaped by a complex agency-structure interplay, yet appear to be path-dependent. The study has practical relevance in light of national policies to extend individuals’ working lives. Limitations include the qualitative nature of this study, which prevents us from generalising our findings.
Period04 Oct 2017
Held atNewcastle University, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionRegional