May 17, 2016
The Secret to Longer Life: Keep Working
If having an adequate income in retirement won’t persuade you to delay that retirement date by a year or two, try this argument: you’ll live longer.
A new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found strong evidence that older workers who retire even one year later have lower mortality rates. This held true for both healthy and unhealthy people.
The researchers at Oregon State and Colorado State used a survey of older workers to follow some 3,000 people who were employed in 1992 but had retired by 2010. Since health drives mortality and is a factor in deciding when to retire, they separated their research subjects into two groups – healthy and unhealthy – to see if they had different results.
The healthy people were more likely to be physically active, non-smokers with a lower body mass index and fewer chronic medical conditions. Other research has shown that having meaningful work can also contribute to health at older ages.
Over the period of the study, one in four unhealthy retirees died, compared with just about one in 10 healthy people. But the survival odds improved for people in both groups who retired after age 65, reducing the risk of healthy people dying by 11 percent and unhealthy people by 9 percent for each year of delay.
These general results aren’t necessarily true of every individual worker: some people are in such stressful or physically demanding jobs that retirement might be good for their health. Further, the reasons behind the health benefits of a longer working life are not fully understood.
But the researchers have some suggestions. Working provides people with “substantial financial, psychosocial and cognitive resources” to draw upon, while retirement can create stress, anxiety and even depression, especially in countries “where work is highly valued,” they said.
The upshot, they conclude: policies that promote working longer might be good for older Americans’ health.