Stress is One Reason People Retire
Only about half of U.S. workers in their late 50s can be expected to remain employed at age 63, and less than a third make it past 65.
New research looks below the surface of these broad trends to reveal the role that the specific characteristics of individual occupations play in whether baby boomers can work longer.
It’s very common for people unexpectedly hit with health problems or blue-collar workers facing up to their physical limitations to retire earlier. On the other hand, older people in some jobs have good odds of working longer. A new study by researchers from the University of Michigan and the Rand Corporation uncovered three characteristics that promote working longer that exist in a variety of jobs: low stress, stable job demands and duties, and the ability to transition to part-time work.
The researchers used a survey of full-time workers over time, starting when they were 51 years old, to see when they retired. Their analysis then linked the workers to a separate database of job skills and characteristics to uncover specific jobs that led to earlier retirements (before age 63) or later retirements (after 65).
Research has consistently shown a strong tendency for high-stress work to push people out the door earlier – one example that emerged from this study is licensed practical nurses, who are on the front lines in challenging medical situations. A related finding is that people retiring after 65 are often in “creative or labor-of-love” jobs,” such as writers, musicians, social workers, clergy, and college professors. This is indirectly tied to stress, which is often mitigated by a love of one’s work.
People who try to continue working well into their 60s must grapple with the cognitive limitations that come with aging. That can be even more difficult if they feel their jobs have become more difficult over the years or require increasingly difficult tasks. Computer scientists who must keep up with technological change fit this description, and the researchers found that they tend to retire earlier.
People also tend to work longer if they’re in full-time jobs that provide the flexibility to eventually set their hours or work part-time. The study names taxi drivers, chauffeurs, security guards, and couriers. These jobs also offer social engagement, which is known to reduce stress and improve well-being. However, moving into part-time work in a current job was not an option for the majority of the older workers in the study.
The researchers’ bottom line conclusion is that the characteristics of a job tell us more than the job’s title.
The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.