Is retirement lethal?


Previously I’ve posted on how retirement is correlated with cognitive decline. The proof keeps on rolling in:

We investigate the relationship between aging, cognitive abilities and retirement using the Survey on Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), a longitudinal survey that offers the possibility of comparing several European countries using nationally representative samples of the population aged 50+. We use a version of the model proposed by Grossman (1972) as a guide for our empirical specification of the age-profile of cognitive abilities. According to the model, retirement plays a fundamental role in explaining the process of cognitive deterioration. Our empirical results confirm this key prediction. They also indicate that education plays a fundamental role in explaining heterogeneity in the level of cognitive abilities.

Source: “Aging, cognitive abilities and retirement in Europe” from Centre for Economic and International Studies Vol. 7, Issue 5, No. 152 – November 2009


Some studies suggest that people can maintain their cognitive abilities through “mental exercise.” This has not been unequivocally proven. Retirement is associated with a large change in a person’s daily routine and environment. In this paper, we propose two mechanisms how retirement may lead to cognitive decline. For many people retirement leads to a less stimulating daily environment. In addition, the prospect of retirement reduces the incentive to engage in mentally stimulating activities on the job. We investigate the effect of retirement on cognition empirically using cross-nationally comparable surveys of older persons in the United States, England, and 11 European countries in 2004. We find that early retirement has a significant negative impact on the cognitive ability of people in their early 60s that is both quantitatively important and causal. Identification is achieved using national pension policies as instruments for endogenous retirement.

Source: “Mental Retirement” from RAND working paper WR-711, October 2009

However cliche, “use it or lose it” seems to be quite true across the board when discussing the human machine.

The more studies I read the more I see how our body generally follows our behavior, not leads, when it comes to decline.

From testosterone proving to be an effect not a cause, to aging being reversed by how you behave, to those repeated studies on how profound the effects of regular exercise are, the more I roll my eyes when people excuse lazy or bad behavior because of age.

Your metabolism did not “slow down.” You slowed down and your metabolism followed.

Okay, enough lecture. So what’s the new reason why retirement is bad? Well if dementia isn’t enough, retirement can out-and-out kill you:

This paper investigates the effects of retirement on various health outcomes. Data stem fromthe first three waves of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). With this informative data, non-parametric matching methods can be applied to identify causal effects. It is found that retirement significantly increases the risk of being diagnosed with a chronic condition. In particular, it raises the risk of developing a cardiovascular disease and being diagnosed with cancer. Estimates also indicate that retirement has quite diverse effects for different individuals.

Source: “How Does Retirement Affect Health?” from IZA Discussion Paper No. 4253, June 2009

Don’t retire. Everything I’ve been reading points in one direction: Never stop challenging yourself.

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