Warning: Retirement Is Hazardous to Your Health

Recent scientific studies suggest a mid-60s adieu to working life may not be the best idea

Warning: Retirement Is Hazardous to Your Health

Delaying retirement for Canadians in their late 50s and early 60s has provided an important buffer for businesses that would otherwise be struggling to fill skills gaps given the current labour shortages, says James Orlando, TD Economics’ director and senior economist. The number of people aged 55+ who have remained at work since 2020 has been increasing. TD calculations show if the retirement rate of the early 2000s had continued into the 2020s, there would have been more than one million fewer retirement age people in the workforce.

In the midst of what has been identified as a shortage of labour, this has surely mitigated the impact of it.

No Reason

Still, there is no reason that older Canadians cannot work longer. More important, there are compelling reasons that they should.

Society in general needs to get away from this concept that the goal of every worker should be to retire as soon as they can. We have argued before that retiring in your mid-60s is based on no substantive fact other than once upon a time, that is when people died. That made government retirement plans, like the Canada Pension Plan, cheap because benefits were only paid out for a couple of years. If we were setting a retirement age today, it would probably be in the mid-80s as that is the average age of mortality.

However, a more compelling reason to get away for these arbitrary retirement ages is that it may not be good for your health.

There’s increasing evidence that, in some cases, it’s better for your brain and your health to keep working as long as you physically and mentally can. While the research to date is mixed, the positive tendency is that for many people, there are health benefits to working longer. Jobs keep people connected socially; physically active; and provide purpose. These have all been shown to contribute to health over the long term.

Retiring earlier may also increase your risk of dying earlier. A 2016 study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that healthy people who postponed retirement and chose to retire just a year later had an 11 per cent lower risk of dying from any cause. Even those with health problems lived longer when they postponed retirement.

Overall Health

Granted, there may not be a connection to working longer and mental and physical health. An Australian study concluded that it’s actually overall health ‒ not retirement age ‒ that affects longevity.

However, more recent studies have linked retirement to a decline in cognitive functioning. This leaves people at a greater risk of developing various types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The theory is retirement leads to changes in brain circuitry ‒ if we’re not using our brains in the same way we did when we were working, connections in the brain become dormant.

Given this, perhaps we should start by putting warnings on retirement cheques that it may, like cigarettes, be hazardous to your health.