Expert Commentary

Mental retirement: Cognition, memory and outcomes

2010 study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives on the effect of early retirement on cognitive function of people in their early 60s.

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

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