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Retirement: Staying in the workforce can mean staying alive

I have been called a “buzz kill” for advocating that people work as long as possible. I cling to this advice because, in my years as a financial planner, I found that those who worked longer tended to have fewer financial problems and seemed more content as they aged.

I recognize that many people really don’t like what they do, or they are burned out or simply can’t physically continue performing the tasks required for their jobs. But for many years in the past, even those who could continue to work tended to choose not to do so.

According to a study from the National Institute on Aging, between the 1950s and the mid-1980s “participation of older men in the labor force declined at a notable rate as more and more men opted for retirement before the standard age of 65.” The decline leveled off after the mid- to late 1980s. (For women, the numbers are different, reflecting their entry into the workforce. Proportionally more women of all ages are now working, including those over age 60.)

But two boom-and-bust cycles in the past 15 years — the dot-com and housing bubbles — have prompted a greater share of older Americans to reconsider their previous dreams of early retirement. According to Pew Research, nearly 9 million people over the age of 65 reported working either full or part time — that’s 18.8 percent of the total number of older Americans. In the year 2000, the share stood at just 12.8 percent.

You might think that most of these people are working because they have to earn money, and you would be right. A survey from Transamerica found that fewer than half of retirees say that they have either fully recovered financially from or were not affected by the Great Recession. As a result, 60 percent of retirees said making money or earning benefits was at least one reason they kept working. Thirty-six percent said they work mainly because they enjoy their jobs or want to stay involved.

That latter group may be on to something, because many have found that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. According to a study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, more than half of respondents reported retirement was just “moderately satisfying” or “not at all satisfying.” Perhaps working longer is the key to boosting satisfaction late in life. If you’re not convinced, there is another great benefit to staying on the job: it may actually help you live a longer life.

According to a study from Oregon State University, “working past age 65 could lead to longer life, while retiring early may be a risk factor for dying earlier.” Before you send me the terrible notes about people who retire and then immediately become ill, here are the numbers: 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, than those who retired at 65. And even those who describe themselves as unhealthy were also likely to live longer if they kept working.

There is some belief that staying active and engaged at work may help fight the natural decline in physical and cognitive functioning, but don’t fret if you aren’t working. There is plenty of research that shows membership in social groups, such as book clubs or religious organizations, after retirement is also linked to a longer life. The key is to remain engaged in some way, whether through work, group membership or even hobbies such as bridge or other card games.

Jill Schlesinger, a certified financial planner, is a CBS News business analyst. She welcomes emailed comments and questions.


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