Retiring To Poor Health

Senior WomanAbsence of work could actually do more damage to you.

If you’re anywhere near retirement age, you probably feel a little envy when you hear about someone who was able to retire early. But perhaps you should think again.

It turns out that retirement can be dangerous for your happiness, and even your health, at least in a broad statistical sense.

The evidence comes from a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the United States. It compared thousands of people who had retired with others in the same age group who had not retired. The retirees had substantially more chance of experiencing difficulty with mobility and simple self-care tasks, and more likely to show signs of depression.

One of the researchers, economist Dhaval Dave at Boston’s Bentley College, Said he was surprised at how negative the results were. He and his two fellow investigators didn’t expect any big decline in health, “yet we did find this big impact”.

The study said it’s not really retirement that make you sick, but rather the poor way many of us manage our retirement.

People who stay physically and socially active, some of them by working part-time, pretty much escape the retirement curse. Being married, which is one indicator of having at least some social network, is also associated with less likelihood of health problems.

This study deserves serious attention because it managed to avoid a big pitfall that has undermined the credibility of some previous research into retirement and health: the confusion between cause and effect. After all, one of the major reasons for retirement is poor health, so a valid study must find a way to exclude retirees who are already in poor health.

Dave and his colleagues, Inas Rashad at Georgia State University and Jasmina Spasojevic at Metropolitan College in New York, didi this by finding an exceptionally rich source of data: a University of Michigan study that had tracked more than 12,000 people in the age group from 55 to 75 for about a decade.

After excluding all those who showed any health problems at the beginning of the study, Dave and his colleagues still had more than 4,000 people to analyze. Within this healthy group, those who retired completely from the workforce saw their health deteriorate more than those who kept working.

After six to seven years, the retirees had a 23% to 29% greater increase in difficulties with mobility and simple activities such as dressing or feeding themselves. They also suffered an 8% increase in lifestyle related illness such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and a 11% decline in mental health, measured by indicators of depression.

However, the message is not that retirement will kill you. Properly interpreted, the study says even after you leave the stresses of the workplace, you must still take care of yourself. Ironically, people who work seem to do this better than people of leisure, largely because work provides an automatic social network.

This effect is so strong that when seniors with better retirement benefits were compared with those with skimpier ones, the ones with smaller incomes were actually healthier. This is despite much research that shows lower incomes linked to poorer health.

How to explain this? Well, those with smaller retirement incomes were more likely to work part-time.

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