Benefits of Working Longer

This morning I came across an interesting study produced by researchers from The Wharton School, “Working Longer Solves (Almost) Everything: The Correlation Between Employment, Social Engagement and Longevity.”

I’ve always believed that folks who retire should continue to do something productive well into retirement.

Based on my own experiences with retiring clients and family over the years, I’ve long believed continuing some sort of meaningful work into retirement would have a positive impact on retirees’ physical and mental health and longevity. Well, this study confirms that and more!

The study found that working longer produces three primary benefits for older adults:

  1. Financial security
  2. Physical health
  3. Mental health

Financial Security

As all my retiring clients know, because I emphasize this so much, taking Social Security early is a bad idea. Therefore, one of the obvious benefits of working longer is the opportunity to let those social security benefits accrue and maximize that benefit over your lifetime.

Most people should defer their SS benefits until age 70 although some unique circumstances certainly warrant an alternative approach.

Another obvious benefit of working longer is that it “provides additional lifetime earnings and the opportunity for incremental saving, augments the size of eventual pension and social security benefits… and also reduces the number of years of retirement during which these augmented assets will be consumed.”

Physical and Mental Health Benefits

“Older workers benefit from continued participation in the workforce; work provides a means for older adults to remain engaged in their communities.”

It’s been repeatedly shown that isolation is a “risk factor for poor mental and physical health, including higher prevalence of disease and increased risk of mortality.” In fact, social isolation has been identified as the health equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day!

Work also provides opportunities for learning and reasoning keeping the brain healthier. Many adults experience a severe decline in cognitive abilities after retirement.

Many folks, and I notice this myself even after taking a long weekend off of work, derive “some meaning, purpose, affiliation, and structure” from their work. Work is often an integral, important part of one’s identity so retiring without replacing that can leave a large void potentially leading to depression and other adverse health effects.

We have research that suggests “people who retire early report lower rates of satisfaction in retirement than those who wait.”

Longevity Bonus (unrelated to the study)

I once attended a presentation where the presenter spoke about our longevity bonus. Whereas life for humans for the vast majority of our history on Earth has been characterized by work followed shortly by death (or death while working), we now have a longevity bonus…a prolonged period of retirement not afforded to those who have come before us at any other time in human history.

So, instead of the traditional “school -> work -> end-of-life retirement” lifecycle, some people are spreading that “longevity bonus” throughout their lifetime instead of banking it all for the end. I thought that was an interesting concept.

Summary

Adults do not necessarily have to continue on with their lifelong career into their retirement years, but they will almost certainly live a longer, more fulfilling, happier life if they do something that continues to challenge them, provides opportunities for continued learning and social interactions.

“There is a strong positive correlation between employment, social engagement, and longevity. Facilitating continued or new employment of older workers not only adds more years to those individuals’ lives, but also adds more ‘life’ to their later years.”

These intangible benefits are all in addition to the obvious financial benefits of working longer, saving more and consuming less of their retirement resources.

But the bottom line is this, just because we can afford to retire doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in our best interest to retire. Obviously, everyone is different, but replacing work with another meaningful activity is at least something to consider when planning for our retirements!