Mental Retirement: Cognition, Memory and Outcomes
As America’s population ages and questions over Social Security’s financial health persist, the issue of retirement age remains a subject of public policy debate. The issue also has a personal health dimension. It has long been believed, but unproven, that early retirement can be detrimental to one’s cognitive function, whereas a longer working life has been thought to promote healthy brain function.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, “Mental Retirement,” attempts to estimate the precise effects of retirement on cognitive function. The authors used national survey data from the United States and Europe to examine the relationship between cognition of people in their early 60s and labor force status.
The study’s findings include:
- There are large differences in the ages at which people retire. In the United States, England and Denmark, 65% to 70% of men were still working when they were in their early 60s. In France and Italy, the figure is 10% to 20%, and in Spain it is 38%.
- There is a straight-line relationship between the percentage of people in a country working at ages 60 to 64 and their performance on memory tests. The longer people in a country keep working, the better they do on the tests when they are in their early 60s
- Overall, early retirement appears to have a significant and causal negative impact on the cognitive ability of people in their early 60s.
Tags: aging, retirement, cognition
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the Journal of Economic Perspectives study "Mental Retirement."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the study-related New York Times article titled "Taking Early Retirement May Retire Memory, Too."
- Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
- Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. (for example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties [e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members] and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?)
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.