The researchers found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11 percent lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle, and health issues. Adults who described themselves as unhealthy were also likely to live longer if they kept working, the findings showed, which indicates that factors beyond health may affect post-retirement mortality.
“It may not apply to everybody, but we think work brings people a lot of economic and social benefits that could impact the length of their lives,” said Chenkai Wu, the lead author of the study.
Wu took an interest in the effects of retirement on health in part because of China’s mandatory laws.
“Most research in this area has focused on the economic impacts of delaying retirement,” Wu said.
Researchers picked the United States because it has more flexibility about when people retire compared to other countries.
Wu examined 1992 to 2010 data from the Healthy Retirement Study, a long-term study of U.S. adults led by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Aging.
Of more than 12,000 participants in the study, Wu focused on 2,956 people who began the study in 1992 and had retired by the end of 2010.
Researchers divided the group into unhealthy retirees, or those who indicated that health was a factor in their decision to retire – and healthy retirees, who indicated health wasn’t a factor. About two-thirds of the group fell into the healthy category, while a third were in the unhealthy category.
During the study period, about 12 percent of the healthy and 25.6 percent of the unhealthy retirees died.
Healthy retirees who worked a year longer had an 11 percent lower risk of dying, while unhealthy retirees who worked a year longer had a 9 percent lower risk of dying. Working a year longer had a positive impact on the study participants’ mortality rate regardless of their health status, researchers said.
“The healthy group is generally more advantaged in terms of education, wealth, health behaviors, and lifestyle, but taking all of those issues into account, the pattern still remained,” said Robert Stawski, senior author of the study. “The findings seem to indicate that people who remain active and engaged gain a benefit from that.”
Additional research is needed to better understand the links between work and health, the researchers said. As people get older their physical health and cognitive function are likely to decline, which could affect their ability to work and their longevity.
“We see the relationship between work and longevity, but we don’t know everything about people’s lives, health, and well-being after retirement that could be influencing their longevity,” Stawski said.