Is retiring early a risk factor for mortality?  Research from Oregon State University showed that retiring a year later at 66 can mean an 11% less risk of dying.

Unhealthy retirees had a 9% lower mortality risk if they worked a year longer.

Work is much more than getting paid. It also gives mental and physical health benefits. Factors such as  socialisation, structure, purpose, enjoyment and achievement should not be underestimated.

Dr Chenkai Wu, one of the researchers in the Oregon State University study has been quoted as as saying: ‘It shows work brings people a lot of economic and social benefits that could have an impact on the length of their lives’.

We asked Dr Wu, Assistant Professor, Associate Director of Graduate Studies, MSc Global Health, Global Health Research Center, about the research. Is retiring early a risk factor for mortality?

Construction worker , not retired, on scaffolding above city street
Anthony Ginsbrook

There’s a saying, often attributed to an Australian Prime Minister that ‘Life was not meant to be easy’. Do you think that having challenges in later life is beneficial? (rather than opting for an ‘easy life’).
It could be. But I guess it depends on the type of the challenges (health issues like stroke, psychosocial issues like bereavement). 

And is it beneficial to continue to work past a ‘traditional’ retirement age?
According to our study and several other previous studies using different study populations, retiring later is related to better health outcomes. Although we do not completely understand the reasons. ]

Does it matter what type of work people do, in terms of not retiring at age 65? 
No, according to our study. However, we need to be careful in interpreting these results because we were only able to classify participants’ occupation into a few broad categories. Future studies with a finer classification of occupation are certainly needed. 

Worker with Lap top computer on desk with a succulent plant, small photo of a lake, a book on typography and a black chair on the floor.
Kari Shea

Do academics ever really retire?
Some do while some do not (especially in the humanities and social science disciplines). 

I heard about a study (many years ago) that showed that people such as University Professors, Ministers of Religion (ie: those who ‘always’ have a title…ie: Dr / Emeritus Professor, Pastor, Bishop, Vicar, Father) have longevity. Do you have an opinion/hypothesis about this?
Education level and income (very closely related to education) are two very strong indicators of health and longevity. 

In your study, it is mentioned that ‘unhealthy retirees’ who continued to work had a 9% lower mortality rate. Why do you think this is the case?
We defined unhealthy retirees based on self-reports. This methods is known to have bias; it is possible that some people said they retired due to health-related reasons but actually had robust health status. ‘

Thank-you Dr Wu

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