Working past retirement age linked to improved physical and mental health – by job

In a new study published in BMC Public Healthresearchers have found that working later in life can be beneficial for some, but have negative effects for people in high-demand or low-paying jobs.

Research shows that work, compared to involuntary unemployment, is good for mental health; however, there is little work regarding mental and physical health outcomes for people who work past retirement age.

Researchers Susan Baxter and her colleagues studied the health outcomes of people who work after age 64 and assessed the effectiveness of interventions to optimize prolonged healthy work. The researchers analyzed 9 file documents of people who were employed beyond retirement age (over 64).

The results of the analyzes of the 9 studies show that 5 of the studies found a positive effect for people who work after retirement age, 2 studies found a neutral effect and 2 studies found no adverse effects. Baxter and colleagues found that men’s health outcomes were about 14% better when they worked past retirement age; however, these benefits ceased after 6 years of retirement.

Some studies reviewed by Baxter and colleagues have shown that working part-time in old age is correlated with positive health outcomes. For example, one study showed that older people who worked beyond age 62 were less likely to be depressed or to suffer from sleep disturbances, but these results were not significant. After fully adjusting the results, one study found that older women in the UK who worked in manual jobs were more likely to have higher depression scores, while women who worked in professional occupations were not also negatively affected.

Baxter and his colleagues also found that working older men were less likely to require long-term care, but experienced a drop in daily activities. Older working women were less likely to need long-term care and less likely to experience a decrease in their daily activities.

Overall, retired women and working older women had more difficulty with physical functioning than men. The study reviewed in the United States found increased positive physical outcomes for older adults who worked in medium-reward jobs, compared to low-reward jobs. One study found positive quality of life as an outcome for older people who worked to stay active and for pleasure, but not for those who worked for financial reasons.

Evaluation of an intervention aimed at enabling a desired work-life balance showed that people who had low work capacity benefited from the intervention and had an increased perception of being able to do their job. A cohort study from a European dataset showed that, aside from older people with depression, older retirees and employees experienced no change in their health outcomes when engaging in sports and social clubs.

Baxter and colleagues argue that, despite some inconsistencies between the studies reviewed, there appears to be more support for positive, neutral mental and physical health outcomes for people who work past retirement age. These findings appear to be more common among men, people who work part-time, and those in higher-quality, higher-paying jobs. Baxter and colleagues suggest that health differences may not be the only explanation for positive work-related effects later in life.

Baxter and colleagues note that a limitation of their work is that they did not include retirees under age 64. Additionally, only studies written in English were used, which may have excluded other relevant work. Finally, Baxter and colleagues did not include studies that focused on the effects of retirement.

The study “Is working late in life good for your health?” A Systematic Review of Health Outcomes Resulting from Extended Working Life,” was authored by Susan Baxter, Lindsay Blank, Anna Cantrell and Elizabeth Goyder.

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