Many governments world-wide are promoting longer working life due to the social and economic repercussions of demographic change. However, not all workers are equally able to extend their employment careers. Thus, while national policies raise the overall level of labour market participation, they might create new social and labour market inequalities. This paper explores how institutional differences in the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan affect individual retirement decisions on the aggregate level, and variations in individuals’ degree of choice within and across countries. We investigate which groups of workers are disproportionately at risk of being ‘pushed’ out of employment, and how such inequalities have changed over time. We use comparable national longitudinal survey datasets focusing on the older population in England, Germany and Japan. Results point to cross-national differences in retirement transitions. Retirement transitions in Germany have occurred at an earlier age than in England and Japan. In Japan, the incidence of involuntary retirement is the lowest, reflecting an institutional context prescribing that employers provide employment until pension age, while Germany and England display substantial proportions of involuntary exits triggered by organisational-level redundancies, persistent early retirement plans or individual ill-health.