Work affects the health of many seniors

Maybe your uncle had a heart attack right after he retired. Or your newly retired friends may feel depressed and lost with no structure to their day. A light-hearted article in Harvard Health News arguing that working longer hours promotes mental stimulation and prevents chronic illness may have led you to believe that retirement has killed your uncle or your friends are bored.

But the health implications of retirement and longer employment are complicated. All in all, voluntary retirement is mostly associated with better health, control and well-being. However, when older people are pushed into retirement, this has adverse health effects and over 50% of retirees are forced to retire involuntarily. For many people over 55 and 65, working conditions and unemployment are harsh and can accelerate death and morbidity.

A 2008 study comparing two groups – retirees and those in work – found that retirees had more difficulties with mobility and their daily activities, were more ill and had more mental health declines than workers of the same age. If you don’t know why the study participants retired, you might think that retirement makes you depressed and ill, although poor health and an unfriendly job market could be the reason they retired in the first place are. People in higher socioeconomic strata work longer hours and are in better health. But the work didn’t necessarily make her healthier. They might be even happier if they stopped working.

People who retire from low-reward jobs maintain better health than people who work longer hours. A 2013 study and a follow-up study in 2018 found that retiring from jobs with heavy physical and psychological commitments improved health and reduced depressive symptoms. Retirement boosts health significantly, as retirees are more likely to quit smoking and exercise more. It seems that breaking habits while at work is harder. In 2018, there was compelling evidence that retirement—compared to work—improves physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction, and that retirement ultimately reduces many people’s functional limitations. Life satisfaction improves within the first four years after retirement, while improvements in health become apparent four or more years later.

Escape from work by retiring is the healthiest thing a person can do.

Unfriendly labor markets

Since the labor market is quite unfriendly for older workers, losing one takes longer to find a job; wage atrophies; and many working conditions are deteriorating – staying in the labor pool can be toxic. And if you experience job insecurity and involuntary job loss in midlife but continue to work, your health will deteriorate. Men in particular, whose professional life is unstable and whose job is involuntarily lost, have a higher risk of developing depression in old age if they continue to work.

A study published in the aptly named Journal of Happiness Studies found that people who were retired felt happy longer than their working counterparts.

A final health indicator — one that’s often studied and much admired — is resilience, the ability to “go with the flow” or “thrive in the face of adversity.” It turns out that working in old age does not help an older person to be resilient. Resilient older people are well-connected and integrated into the community; But Work per se is not associated with the good social and psychological outcomes of old age.

work and older women

Working in old age could be worse for women as they are more frequently monitored at work, face more age discrimination and are likely to be paid less for the same work, responsibilities and education. Older women workers are more likely to have low-wage jobs. Working longer hours is particularly bad for women’s health. Women in service jobs would become healthier when they retired.

Retirement is especially helpful for people who have the worst jobs, are in poorer health, and have the lowest status in society and in the labor market. An additional positive effect of retirement for people with a lower socioeconomic status is that retirement reduces pain, which gives a person more ability to engage in the daily activities of life. This realization is crucial as pain is a big part of the lives of older workers.

Work is not getting any easier for older workers

The physical demands on older workers are no different today than they were in the 1990s. In 1992, 17 percent of older workers said their jobs required heavy lifting. That rate remained high at 15 percent in 2014. Older black men were more likely to engage in physical labor in 2010 than in the 1990s. In addition, the proportion of workers who reported bending, kneeling, and crouching frequently was 27 percent in 2014, the same as in 1992. One in three older workers reported in 2014 that their work involved “a lot physical effort” required. And computers didn’t save people from the hard work of the workplace; Due to computers, more and more older people have jobs that require sharp eyesight and high concentration.

By 2035, personal and home health care will be the occupations that will see the greatest employment growth. Government data estimates that three quarters of these new jobs will go to women aged 55 and over. All evidence suggests that the greatest source of employment for older workers are vital jobs for society that require high levels of physical, mental and emotional exertion and high levels of financial reward.

If nothing is done

Given this low reward-to-effort ratio, I suspect that if Congress and corporations do nothing, older people working longer could make people sicker, reverse earlier gains in life expectancy, and exacerbate class and racial disparities in life expectancy .

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