Objectives. Survivors of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (HNSCC) are more severely affected in regard to affiliation to the work market than other cancer survivors. Few studies have investigated associations between socioeconomic and disease-related factors and work market affiliation after curative treatment of HNSCC. We investigated the factors for early retirement pension due to disability and unemployment in patients who had been available for work one year before diagnosis. Methods. In a nationwide, population-based cohort study, data on 2436 HNSCC patients treated curatively in 1992-2008 were obtained from the Danish Head and Neck Cancer Group database and linked to Danish administrative population-based registries to obtain demographic and socioeconomic variables. We used multivariate logistic regression models to assess associations between socioeconomic factors (education, income and cohabitating status), cancer-specific variables such as tumour site and stage, comorbidity, early retirement pension and unemployment, with adjustment for age, gender and year of diagnosis. Results. Short education [odds ratio (OR) 4.8; 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.2-10.4], low income (OR 3.2; 95% CI 1.8-5.8), living alone (OR 3.0; 95% CI 2.1-4.4) and having a Charlson comorbidity index score of 3 or more (OR 5.9; 95% CI 3.1-11) were significantly associated with early retirement overall and in all site groups. For the subgroup of patients who were employed before diagnosis, the risk pattern was similar. Tumour stage was not associated with early retirement or unemployment. Conclusions. Cancer-related factors were less strongly associated with early retirement and unemployment than socioeconomic factors and comorbidity. Clinicians treating HNSCC patients should be aware of the socioeconomic factors related to work market affiliation in order to provide more intensive social support or targeted rehabilitation for this patient group.