There are plenty of reasons to keep working past what might be considered a traditional retirement age. Some people keep at it because they have to – with little saved for retirement, a steady paycheck is a must. Others, however, hang in there on the job because of other reasons, including self-image, sociability, and personal satisfaction. A few weeks ago, we read this article on the website Rate.com which suggests what might be the most compelling reason of all: if you’re a male, research from the Netherlands suggests that those who work longer actually live longer.
(The data in this study only applies to men, the article advises. It doesn’t offer any evidence that working longer delivers a similar health boost for women.)
Study from the Netherlands Links Earlier Retirement, Earlier Death
Reporter Carla Fried wrote the Rate.com article. As she reports, “If you’ve saved well enough to retire, but can’t quite decide which you’d enjoy more — retiring now or continuing to work — there’s a piece of research that suggests you might live somewhat longer if you keep working.” The study, available here as a 6-page download, was conducted by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
As Fried points out, there has been plenty of academic research suggesting that people who continue to work longer live longer. But researchers weren’t sure why. “Is that simply because people who are healthier in their early 60s are able to keep working?” Fried asks. “It has been unclear whether the work itself leads to better health.” Now, however, the study out of Boston College establishes a link: men who keep working into their 60s appear to enjoy better health and increased longevity.
Researchers Tapped Into a Real-World Database
This time, says the Rate.com article, the data wasn’t theoretical. Instead, researchers were able to tap into what the article calls “a real-world database.” Fried explains the Netherlands-based study. “For a few years beginning in 2009,” she writes, “the Dutch government offered a tax credit to workers (across all occupations) who were age 62 if they kept working into their mid-60s. Those who chose to keep working were then tracked for a few years to measure their mortality rate.”
She adds that researchers massaged the data to take into account a range of other reasons people might potentially quit working, such as income level and whether they didn’t like their job. “What they found is that the odds of dying within five years dropped from 8 percent to 6 percent for men who worked from 62 to 65,” Fried says. While in practical terms that only added two months of longevity during the three years between 62 and 65, researchers theorized that men who kept on working longer, past 65, could potentially add two years to their lifespan.
Research Report Sounds a Note of Caution
We looked at the Boston College report and, as most scientific papers tend to do, it sounded a cautious note – yet the bottom-line conclusion seemed clear. “As countries move to encourage later retirement,” it read, “one crucial piece of information is still uncertain: whether working longer improves mortality.” After examining the Dutch data, the Center for Retirement Research offered their opinion: “The results indicate that Dutch men ages 62-65 induced to work by the policy change do live longer.”
The report did note that the Dutch government employed a “carrot” approach, rather than a “stick” approach. In other words, those who stayed on the job received incentives, whereas in the U.S. the tendency is to discourage early retirement by reducing benefits. Researchers were reluctant to suggest that one approach works better than the other. “Nonetheless,” the paper concluded, “these results indicate that encouraging some people to work longer may result in longer lives.”
Working Longer Reduces Financial Anxiety
Longevity, of course, isn’t the only reason to stay on the job longer. “In addition to the longevity boost,” Fried writes, “working longer for men — and women — is one of the most effective ways to squash financial worry demons. Every month, or year, you continue to work is a month or year where you can put off tapping retirement income sources.” The most obvious payoff is in the higher Social Security benefits one receives by delayed filing. Benefits rise at about 8 percent for each year you delay starting Social Security between age 62 – the earliest age for standard benefits – and age 70 when benefits peak.
What’s more, keeping your salary reduces the need to start taking withdrawals from retirement accounts. “That effectively adds more time for the money to potentially grow, and reduces the amount of time in retirement you will need to rely on the money,” says the Rate.com article. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep working until you drop. Today’s 65-year-old can reasonably expect to live at least two more decades, so even if you work until age 70, you’ll still have plenty of retirement years to enjoy. And if you’re married, there’s better than a 30 percent chance that one of you will reach age 90.
Work Brings a Mental and Social Payoff
Some people might do just fine retiring early, the Rate.com article suggests. “[If] you’ve got the money stuff figured out, then retiring sooner might be right for you,” Fried writes with a touch of irony. “But if you have come to rely on your work as both a job and as a social network, and a place that gives you a sense of purpose on top of the paycheck, what’s the rush to retire?” She’s right. Many studies have demonstrated the social and mental benefits of staying involved in a workplace environment.
This 2018 Harvard study is an example of research linking a longer work life with a longer life, period. “There’s increasing evidence that the payoff of working past age 65 may go beyond income,” it states. “Some studies have linked working past retirement with better health and longevity.” One study of about 3,000 people suggested that working even one more year beyond retirement age reduced the death rate by about 10 percent, regardless of health.
Another study cited by Harvard, this one from the CDC, suggested that people who worked past age 65 were about three times more likely than retired people to report being in good health and about half as likely to have serious medical problems, such as cancer or heart disease. “Other studies have linked working past retirement age with a reduced risk of dementia and heart attack,” says the Harvard study.
You’re Going to Retire Eventually, so Plan Ahead
No matter how long you plan to keep working, sooner or later you’ll stop – and when that happens, you need to be prepared. “Give serious thought to how you might spend your retirement days,” says the article. “Not the first month or two. That’s all about decompression, and just enjoying being on your own schedule. But longer term, are there activities you are looking forward to having the time to enjoy?” Married men are particularly apt to struggle if they have to face life unprepared as the surviving spouse.
Remember, too, that your retirement date might be beyond your control. “The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) reports that while the expected median retirement age is 65, the actual median age when people stop is 62,” says Rate.com. In the EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey for 2021, about one-third of retired workers said health problems forced them to quit working earlier than expected. Another 25 percent reported that they had stopped working earlier than expected because of “changes at their company.”
If you’re forced to change your work plans, think carefully whether the time is right to retire. “Retiring rather than looking for other work is definitely easier in the short term,” says Rate.com. “But you need to carefully consider if it works for you long term. Even a part-time job can be a terrific help with getting your retirement plan to the finish line in great shape. And research suggests that for many people it makes them happier.”
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(originally reported at www.rate.com)