Volume 15, Number 1
Planning for retirement is recommended from the outset of one’s work life, and commonly is discussed as part of an employee’s benefit package with any new employment. Retirement planning appropriately focuses on the accrual of financial resources for use when an individual does not have gainful employment, or has reduced income from any employment. While one’s finances certainly can have health implications for retirement, research studies have also been published that suggest that there are other health-related considerations for retirement planning.
The age at which one retires appears to be a factor in post-retirement health. A study published in 2016 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that both for individuals in good health and those with health problems, postponing retirement was associated with a decreased risk of death in the subsequent time period. In the “healthy” group, a “1-year older age at retirement was associated with an 11% lower risk of all-cause mortality.” Similarly, the group of persons with health problems who retired one year later had a 9% lower risk of all-cause mortality, even though they already had a higher mortality risk than their healthy counterparts. These results were not affected by a number of social, demographic, or lifestyle factors. The conclusion was that retiring later comes with a reduced risk of death during the follow-up period of approximately 17 years.
Also in 2016, a different group of investigators published a study in BMJ Open in which social group membership was found to affect both quality of life and mortality over a 6-year period after retirement. Compared to a matched control group of persons who didn’t retire, those who retired with membership in two groups and maintained membership in both groups had a 2% risk of death during the 6-year follow-up period, those who lost membership in one group had a 5% risk of death, and those losing both group memberships had a 12% risk of death. The authors indicated that these effects were similar to the increased mortality risk associated with decreases in physical activity among the same sample of individuals. Independent of retirement status but relevant to group membership is that other studies continue to find that social isolation is an important risk factor for poor health and premature death. For example, according to the results of research published in PLoS ONE in 2017, “super-agers” (defined as persons over age 80 who have the cognitive abilities of persons aged 50-65) differ from their same-age peers by having high levels of positive social relationships.
Taken together, it appears that an important consideration for retirement planning is how social engagement will be maintained after retiring, especially since work-related social relationships and activities are commonly lost or diminished at that point. The social benefits of employment for many individuals may mean that delaying retirement is advantageous for health. Upon retirement an any age, an important health-related component to one’s quality of life and health is to maintain and/or invest in a number of good relationships and/or social groups.
Paul J. Hershberger, Ph.D.
… is a clinical health psychologist. He is Professor, Director of Research, and Director of the Division of Behavioral Health, Department of Family Medicine, Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine.
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