More Evidence That Retirement is Bad For You

Anyone who knows me, or has followed my writing for very long, knows that I don’t believe in retirement.  I think that the evidence of our great value as productive humans is so obvious in so many ways that said productivity should be viewed by each of us as the lifeblood to our very survival in the same way and to the same degree that actual blood is important to us all.  We were not blessed with remarkable brains and remarkable bodies just so that we could simply check out on using both out of deference to reaching a certain age.

A paper published not long ago by two economists, Dr. Robert Willis and Dr. Susann Rohwedder, directly makes the case that the early one retires, the more quickly memories will decline.  In short, the paper, entitled Mental Retirement, makes a compelling case that there exists a direct, highly-correlated relationship between somewhat-seasoned folks (the subject age group analyzed was 60 to 64) and their performance on memory tests, based on whether or not they are still working; in summary, those who were still working did better as a group in comparison to those who were not.   

The oft-cited suggestion of keeping one’s mind busy in retirement with mental puzzles and the reading of more books, well-meaning though it is, apparently isn’t cutting it.  As Dr. Lisa Berkman of Harvard’s Center for Population and Development Studies has said, “If you do crossword puzzles, you get better at crossword puzzles; if you do Sudoku, you get better at Sudoku.  You get better at one narrow task. But you don’t get better at cognitive behavior in life.”

In other words, there are no short shortcuts to mental well-being and longevity, just as there are no shortcuts to physical well-being and longevity.  It takes work…and apparently more of the sort that actually pays a salary.

Interestingly, Drs. Willis and Rohwedder go on to make the point, based on their evidence, that countries (this was a multinational study) that have laws and other incentives which essentially encourage their citizens to retire at younger ages may have the biggest problems associated with the viability of memory on behalf of their populations.  Given the current financial difficulties so many of these countries are experiencing precisely because of entitlements, it appears that these incentives may be doing more than just economic harm to the broad population.

I’ve always talked about the distinct financial advantage associated with avoiding the cessation of work until you absolutely have to; it should be obvious, but let me state it again: Continuing to set money aside, in combination with continuing to generate a separate, organic income for as long as you are able, will always, by definition, put you in the strongest possible financial position when it comes time to actually need the money in order to live and/or pay for medical expenses (and will also allow you to take some pretty great vacations along the way).  Now, we’re finding more and more evidence to support the idea that the very act of perpetuating a professional work life, beyond the direct financial benefits, may well be the key to delaying the end-stage of life altogether.

Agree or disagree; please register your comments below.

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Bob Yetman, Editor-at-Large at Christian (, is an author of a variety of materials on personal finance and investing, as well as on topics of fitness and self defense, to include the book Investor's Passport to Hedge Fund Profits (John Wiley & Sons, Inc;  and the unarmed combat training DVD Thunderstrikes – How to Develop One Shot, One Kill Striking Power (Paladin Press;

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