Retirement & Financial Planning Report

Working longer is associated with lower mortality, depression, and diabetes risk but those who work longer may just be a healthier group.

Longer working careers are associated with improved health at older ages, says a study that however warns that the relationship between the two is “complicated, because work and health are jointly determined – healthy people with lower mortality tend to work longer.”

The Center for Retirement Research noted that “Americans have been retiring later for a number of reasons, including jobs that are becoming less physically demanding, the shift from defined benefit to defined contribution pensions, and changes in Social Security’s incentives.”

That raises questions about the impact on the workers’ health and life expectancy, it said, but research mainly has focused on how those are impacted by retiring earlier, not retiring later, and the findings have been “mixed.” Further, it is difficult to determine cause and effect, since “people who decide to keep working are likely a healthier group than those who stop early.”

That said, it said that working longer “is associated with lower mortality, depression, and diabetes risk for both men and women.” For example, it said that data from a program in the Netherlands designed to encourage longer careers showed a drop in the percentage of men age 62-65 who die within five years to 2.4 percent–a decrease of about a third.

That impact is more strongly associated with men than with women, however, and it’s unclear whether the effect is temporary or lasts throughout the person’s lifetime. More research on those questions is needed, it said.