Type and Age of Retirement Affect Mental and Physical Health

Previous studies have looked at the health effects of retirement from a profitable occupation. This study was a large such endeavor to assess the physical and mental effects of retirement on British civil servants. Results reveal that if a person retired due to physical ailments well before the standard age of 60, he tended to fare poorly in mental health status examinations and physical abilities. On the other hand, retiring at 60 or even voluntary retirement before term was not associated with poor mental and physical health. Authors concluded that “health status improves after statutory and voluntary retirement, although the improvement seems to attenuate over time.” Conversely, retirement due to poor health is associated with poorer mental and physical outcomes.

It is well known that retirement is an important milestone in a person’s late adulthood and has deep social implications. Numerous studies have explored the mental and physical ill-effects of retirement on people. However, these studies have not always yielded consistent results and there exists some conflict among experts whether retirement truly causes mental and physical health to deteriorate. Some studies have also shown that people who retire early are at a greater risk of dying early. This heightens the disparity between results from different studies because it is difficult to know if early death and retirement is actually related to poor health in the first place or to retirement per se. This study conducted over a long period of time attempted to analyze whether retirement affected health or if poor health brought on an early retirement.

* The study included a total of 7,584 employees in various civil departments. They were all aged between 39 and 64 at the beginning of the study and 54 and 76 at the end of the study.
* All participants were assessed for their physical and mental health status at the beginning and end of the evaluation.
* Over the 15 years of the study, the reason and nature of retirement was also recorded in case of each of the participant.

Key findings
* The results showed that health, age, the reason for retirement, and the duration that a person retired for, were interlinked.
* When compared with a person who was gainfully employed, a person who retired at the standard age of 60 or voluntarily retired had a better mental and physical health status.
* On the other hand, it was seen that when people retired due to poor health they tended to have poorer mental and physical health status.

Next steps/shortcomings
Authors agree that this study was conducted in civil servants who performed the equivalent of a “white-collar job.” They thus speculate that the results may be different across other occupations and suggest further studies that involve other workers and employees as well. This should specifically include “blue-collar workers”, who have been known from other studies to develop sleep disturbances after retirement.

This study shows that British civil servants improve in their physical and mental health status after retiring at the age of 60 or after retiring voluntarily. However, with increasing age, this improvement tends to diminish in intensity. Authors also state that the improvements are not dramatic but modest. This study also found that those who suffered a decline in physical and mental health after retirement had retired before their tenure due to ill health and physical ailments. This emphasizes the fact that it is not retirement that leads to poor mental and physical health but poor health that leads to early retirement in most individuals.

For More Information:
From Midlife to Early Old Age – Health Trajectories Associated With Retirement
Publication Journal: Epidemiology, 2010
By Markus Jokela; Jane E. Ferrie; University College London and University of Helsinki, Finland

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.



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