The psychological dimensions to social problems and the particular challenges for ageing populations are key issues for societies. This theme is likely to include ageing and dementia, social psychology, health economics and medical humanities.

Available PhD projects

1. Adjustment to retirement as a process of social identity change

UQ academic lead

Professor Catherine Haslam, Director of Higher Degrees by Research, School of Psychology

Exeter academic lead

Associate Professor Thomas Morton, College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Project description

Retirement is an inevitable part of ageing for most people, but successful adjustment is far from straightforward. About 30 per cent of people find the transition highly stressful and experience a marked reduction in well-being and this is despite engaging in financial planning. As these data suggest, successful transition into retirement is about much more than having enough money. Recent research has begun to focus on the role of social factors given the upheaval that this significant life change imposes on our social networks. Supporting this development are emerging data showing that people who maintain and extend their social ties, especially those with social groups (e.g., work/ professional, friendship, community groups), live longer and have a better quality of life after retirement. So what is it about these social group networks that promotes health and well-being in the retirement transition? This is the key question that this project will address.

This project will draw on recent data from UK, US and Australian populations to examine the extent to which changes in our social group relationships as we retire affects adjustment. It aims to improve understanding of the nature and size of that influence to more effectively manage that social change with a view to optimising adjustment, health, and well-being as we age into retirement. The Social Identity Model of Identity Change (SIMIC) provides a framework to investigate these issues as it specifies mechanisms that can buffer the effects of social group change in life transitions. It has yet to be fully interrogated in the retirement context and this will provide the theoretical focus for the project. 

There are three general strands to this program of research, each of which has sufficient scope to be further developed and refined by the successful applicant. The first involves a systematic review or meta-analysis aimed at identifying the range of social influences investigated to date (including more recent social group influences), quantifying the size of their effects on adjustment outcomes and identifying important moderating factors. The second will be a series of survey and experimental studies that test SIMIC and potentially other social group processes implicated in life change — notably, the effects that maintaining group ties, having access to alternative group ties (in addition to those directly affected by the transition), and gaining new groups have on retirement outcomes. A final strand will draw these findings together to identify the key factors that support social planning for retirement and use these to develop and test an intervention to better manage social change in preparation for retirement.

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