More “retirees” are working into their 70s and 80s. Here are the surprising statistics on senior employment, and how working late in life affects everything from mood to mortality.
After a year of leisure, she went back to work at a California non-profit helping foster kids find their forever homes. Ten years down the road, she is still on the job. The extra money funds home remodeling and travel. Now, at age 75, she enjoys perks like taking Fridays off.
Statistics Point to a Growing Trend
She didn’t need to work, although the financial benefit was huge. Her savings continued to grow until she got sick and moved into an assisted living facility, where she is still socially active at the age of 91.
Top Reasons to Continue Working
- Social integration. Retirement is initially extraordinarily exciting. “At first, there is a honeymoon period where people go on vacation and spend time with their grandchildren,” said professor Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist and director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University. “But it wears off.”
- “In general, people who engage in organized work have higher age of mortality,” Pillemer said. “Working leads to other outcomes that are beneficial.”
- After a lifetime of routine and regular human interaction, retirement can feel isolating and lonely. Human interaction, even if it’s just with colleagues, can affect mental health and in turn, physical health. Loss of work can correspond with a slide in relationships. A recent study found that working after retirement age could produce feelings of happiness when friends were at work.
- “People who stay active socially, physically and intellectually have less chance of developing dementia,” said Dr. James Warner, an old-age psychiatrist at Imperial College London. He added that “the biggest single risk factor for becoming depressed in the elderly is social isolation.”
- Economic improvement. Two problems are solved when older people continue to work: the retirement savings crisis, and the need to keep seniors engaged. “It’s difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle on an old-age pension,” Warner added. Things like keeping the house warm, eating well and going on holidays require income at any age. These are all small things where a little extra money will benefit you, he said.
- Patrick Thomson, senior program manager from the Center for Ageing Better, agrees. “With extra income, you also delay drawing down on your pension or savings.”
- Sense of purpose. When someone loses their defining role in life, it can contribute to worsening mental and physical health. A sobering report from the Institute of Economic Affairs correlates retirement with decreased mental and self-assessed health. Some results indicated the probability of suffering clinical depression increased by 40 percent.
- “The meaningfulness and sense of purpose that older people have in their lives are also related to survival,” said Professor Andrew Steptoe, director of the University College London Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care. “The findings raise the intriguing possibility that increasing wellbeing could help to improve physical health.”
- Physical health. Retirees benefit from physical activity, like everyone. Even if they commute to work and move around on the job, that’s better than sitting at home. And that physical activity is tied to mental well-being and therefore, happiness. One caveat to note is that all of the described benefits are only applicable when people choose to work in their later years. “If you’re forced for economic reasons to work when you don’t want to … that’s not a good outcome,” Pillemer said. “It’s a balance,” Warner said. “It shouldn’t become an expectation. It should be encouraged.”
Click below for the other articles in the October 2018 Senior Spirit