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Study reports: work longer, live longer

by on May 3, 2016

Widely reported across a range of media outlets, ranging from The Daily Express (UK), Fox News (US) and Australian Network News  a US academic study (based on a student’s masters thesis) hit the headlines in ‘proving’ that working longer means you live longer.

According to the Oregon State University website:

“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.”

I have read the paper, which uses secondary data and presents some useful statistical analysis of different outcomes.  The paper itself also acknowledges that paid work might not be the only form of activity that impacts mortality  and other later life outcomes although this was not picked up in the news coverage.  My major criticism of the paper is that there is no discussion of what ‘retirement’ actually means in today’s workplaces.  We have seen a shift away from a sense of a watershed age between work and retirement, issues that are not discussed in the paper at all.  While there is a brief mention of pressures and stresses that relate to retirement as a transitional stage, there is little discussion of how and why this is changing.  Looking back at historical data about retirement might offer some useful insights but unpacking how retirement is changing and in what ways is essential if we are to look forward.

 

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