Everybody knows – or assumes – that worker productivity tends to decline as we get older, and by the time we hit so-called “retirement age” we’re pretty much spent as far as our work life is concerned. That’s the conventional wisdom, right?
Well, as it turns out, this particular conventional wisdom is false. With Labor Day just past, it seems appropriate to shine some light on new research that demonstrates not only that work is good for our health as we age, but also that worker productivity remains constant and even improves as workers get older. That’s the basic premise of this article from the website NextAvenue. It describes how recent studies have upended conventional wisdom about working, aging and retirement.
First, let’s consider whether older people have the physical and mental ability to work longer than many people think. In spite of the fears of some older men and women that their own physical decline is just around the corner, the fact is that older Americans are actually getting healthier, and relatively few seniors have the kind of disability (physical or mental) that would make it impossible for them to keep working. Not only are most older people healthy enough to work, says NextAvenue’s Chris Farrell (who describes himself as an “unretirement expert”), but “studies have found that the mental demands of a job can be a force for staving off cognitive decline.” In other words, work keeps you mentally sharp.
In another NextAvenue article from last fall (click here to read it), Farrell asked the question, “Will you really be able to work into your 70’s?” In that article he quoted federal government research that showed that, among those in the 65 to 74 age group, about three-fourths had no discernible disability at all that would impede continued employment. “These figures,” says Farrell, “strongly suggest the fear that older folks are too frail and disabled to stay employed is exaggerated.” He goes on to cite statistics that even among people in the 75-to-84 age group, more than half were disability-free. Only when age exceeds 85 do the majority of adults experience one or more types of disability that could significantly impact their ability to work.
In Farrell’s words, “When I go around the country giving talks about my book Unretirement, I often hear boomers nervously worrying that the accumulated wear, tear and infirmities of aging will prevent them from working into their 70’s.” But it turns out those fears are largely groundless. In fact, studies show that with better education, less smoking and advances in medical treatment, older people are indeed getting healthier. Says one public health expert, “We are pushing to older ages the onset of disabilities. It’s a promising sign.”
So if it’s true that older workers are just as capable as many of their younger counterparts, why do the skeptics continue to say that workers in their 60’s can’t do the work? The reason is that aging still carries with it the stereotype of physical and mental decline. But European studies cited in the NextAvenue piece poke holes in those stereotypes. In studying two types of major businesses, a heavy manufacturer and an insurance firm, German researchers proved not only that productivity kept increasing right up to the mandatory retirement age of 65, but also that older workers consistently outperformed their younger counterparts. Researchers chalk this up to wisdom, experience and patience – something younger workers had yet to acquire!
So our advice is to read these articles and then, if you can, to look for meaningful ways to stay active and even to keep working in retirement. Not only will you benefit, but so will those you interact with in the workplace. And while it’s true that older workers can find it difficult to stay on the job, there are job placement services and other networking tools that should help you find ways to keep on contributing.
Meanwhile, we here at AgingOptions are ready to serve as your advisors as you prepare for whatever type of retirement you seek. No matter how or when you expect to retire, you need a plan – the more thorough and comprehensive the better. We utilize an approach to retirement planning that we call LifePlanning, creating a well-rounded blueprint that enables our clients to protect their assets in retirement and to take charge of their future by avoiding becoming a burden to those they love. Your LifePlan encompasses your financial plans, your legal needs, your housing choices, your medical requirements and your family communication plan, all the vital facets of retirement.
We encourage you to find out more by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, held throughout the area. Space at these popular seminars is limited, though, so we invite you to click on the Upcoming Events tab on our website and register for the seminar of your choice. (You can also call our office and register by phone during working hours.) Why not spend just a few hours learning about the most dynamic approach to retirement planning you’ve ever seen? We’re confident you’ll be very glad you did. We’ll look forward to meeting you soon.
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)