A recently released study from the U.K. found that those who worked to an older age had better health . This was true for both men and women. These results make a great headline! But the implications are worrisome, especially for those who’ve already retired or are nearing their retirement date.
We’ve all heard stories about people who retired ready to travel the world and suddenly dropped dead. These frightening anecdotes carry a lot of emotion, making them easy to remember and readily shared. While this can and does happen, it’s not statistically likely to happen. There’s also no evidence to prove that if they had continued working that they would have lived.
The Canadian government has told us to work longer. The recent changes to retirement entitlement programs such as Old Age Security (OAS) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) are intended to keep us working longer, building our retirement savings. By working longer we also help with the country’s fiscal situation because we delay receiving retirement benefits. But now there’s a third benefit which is the potential to reduce our use of health care because working longer, according to this study, is good for our health.
What’s really going on with health at retirement?
Mental health isn’t tied to age at retirement. For most people, mental health improves, regardless retirement age, as long as the individual chose their retirement timing. Those who unexpectedly retired (often due to health issues or company downsizing) did not maintain high levels of mental health. They were not in control of their own destiny and unprepared for life without work.
Physical health changes and retirement are more difficult to interpret. So it’s difficult to understand what is really going on in the study results. People are known to provide socially acceptable responses to survey questions. It could be that those who retired early sometimes felt compelled to provide an excuse. Some may have indicated a health reason for their retirement even if this wasn’t true. They don’t want to confess that they had enough money to meet their lifestyle needs and simply felt it was time to get on with their next phase of life. This information may not make them popular with friends.
Abrupt changes are challenging
Working later in life may increase the likelihood of better health but it’s more likely that the type of work is the influencing factor. Career jobs that include high stress and responsibility may not be the best choice when delaying retirement. More satisfying, flexible and less demanding positions provide a chance to get used to a new lifestyle and living on a fixed income. The study didn’t distinguish between career or post-career workers.
What is this study really telling us?
Health is not protected by choosing to work longer. Health is protected by finding a transitional way to retire so that social networks are maintained or rebuilt. It’s the social isolation that places health at risk.
Quitting work cold turkey isn’t healthy when it comes to retirement!
Lee Anne Davies has worked as a consultant for insurance, wealth management, banking and financial education companies. She has a PhD in Aging, Health and Well-being and a Masters of Arts (MA) in Gerontology and Health Studies from the University of Waterloo and an MBA from Athabasca University’s Information Technology Management program. She’s also successfully completed the Canadian Securities Course and the Professional Financial Planning Course. To read more from Davies, visit her blog Agenomics.