The Health Impact of Working in Retirement
Working has a mixed impact on a retiree’s health. Working full- or part-time between the ages of 50 to 75 is associated with lower overall health and self-reported memory ratings. Conversely, full-time and particularly part-time workers have a much lower body weight, reducing their risk for obesity-related diseases. Part-time white-collar work improves word recall scores. These are the findings from economics researcher Tunga Kantacri of Tilburg University, Netherlands.
Kantacri analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study. The HRS tracks a representative sample of 22,000 Americans age 50 or older every two years. Kantacri looked at self-rated memory (as measured by a word recall test), a depression index, self-reported health, body mass index scores and what he considered to be objective measures of health. He defined part-time work as less than 35 hours per week and full-time work as more than 35 hours per week.
The researcher did not offer definitive reasons why health conditions were worse for those who continued working versus those who were fully retired. Kantacri theorizes that occupational injuries or work-related stress may be the causes. If so, then it is work conditions, and not working itself, that is detrimental to a retiree’s health. The researcher cautions, however, that work may initiate medical conditions that may have otherwise been delayed or prevented by full retirement.
The link between work and lower body weight may reflect higher physical activity levels. The contradiction between those who work rating their memory lower and part-time white-collar workers having higher word recall scores may reflect the difference between self-assessment and a more quantifiable test. Kantacri conceded that “working itself may not necessarily be deteriorating memory skills.” No reason was given for why working retirees have lower levels of depression, though we think more frequent social interactions along with a sense of purpose are playing a role.
Kantacri’s study seems to be at odds with previous studies finding a link between early retirement and poorer health. For instance, see “Postpone Retirement for Your Health” in the June 2013 AAII Journal. We lack the data to contrast the studies, however.
Source: “The Effects of Partial Retirement on Health,” Tunga Kantarci, Netspar Discussion Papers, October 11, 2013.