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4 Reasons to Work Longer

Keep working, if you can.

Promising freedom from deadlines, commutes and manager supervision, retirement is alluring. Indeed, many people dream of the day they can finally walk away from their desks and leave the workforce for good.

But there actually are many benefits to working longer and delaying retirement past your early 60s, the age when most American workers call it quits.

Not everyone is able to work longer, of course. People with physically demanding jobs or health problems may find themselves unable to continue working as they age. Older workers may face hiring discrimination and have trouble finding employment opportunities.

If you're healthy and fortunate enough to have a good job, though, read on to learn why you may want to consider keeping your 9-to-5 routine and the paycheck that comes with it.


Working longer may provide health benefits for people whose jobs don't cause too much mental or physical stress. Researchers have found that there's "often a decline after retirement" in the cognitive abilities of older adults, says Darlene Howard, psychology professor emerita at Georgetown University.

Work provides many opportunities for learning, reasoning and social engagement, all of which help stave off the adverse effects aging can have on the brain, Howard explains. It also helps keep many workers physically active, and exercise has proven to be one of the most effective ways to keep mentally sharp in old age.

Measuring health

This graph shows that, across 13 countries, retirement is correlated with a decline in cognition.

It comes from "Mental Retirement," a study published in The Journal of Economic Perspectives. Authors Susann Rohwedder and Robert J. Willis conclude that, "on average, retirement causes a decrease in a person's cognitive ability relative to staying in the labor force."


Social Security payments make retirement possible for many workers. But the money these payments provide recipients only replaces about 42 percent of their average lifetime wage, says Courtney Coile, professor of economics at Wellesley College.

That means many people who rely on Social Security for income in retirement experience a drastic pay cut. And people are increasingly financially unprepared for early retirement, according to a study published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Working longer helps delay that income reduction, providing workers with more money for longer and also granting them more time to boost their personal retirement savings.

The Social Security system rewards those who delay taking the benefit until later in life. Although people born in or after 1960 can qualify for payments at age 62, they will only get a fraction of the full monthly amount if they start collecting Social Security before age 67. You can delay collecting Social Security until age 70.

Due to these factors, "working one more year increases old-age income by 9 percent and by 16 percent for low-income people," says economist Richard Johnson, senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

Measuring benefits

According to retirement expert Mary Beth Franklin, people who delay Social Security benefits from age 62 to age 70 could see a 76 percent increase in their lifetime payments.


For most people, "meaning matters" to their sense of well-being and overall health, Howard says. And for many workers, "life derives some meaning from the fact that they are working," says economist Gary Burtless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Maintaining a satisfying career can help older people sustain their sense of meaning and contribute to their happiness.

When asked by reporters why they still have jobs, older adult workers who participate in social programs run by Iona Senior Services in Washington, D.C., provided several reasons linked to happiness: They said working helps them make friends and socialize, stay busy, help other people and provide resources for their grandchildren.

According to an economic study by researchers at Cornell University and Syracuse University, participants who continued to work into their older years had a 25 percent increase in the size of their social networks, while people who retired saw their networks shrink. The effect is stronger for women and people with post-secondary education.

Working longer can also help prevent sources of unhappiness that may trouble older adults. For example, one Iona participant said she keeps working so she doesn't pose a financial burden on her daughter, who otherwise would have to provide for her care.

Measuring satisfaction

Indeed, people who retire early report lower rates of satisfaction than those who wait, according to David Weir, research professor at the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan and director of the Health and Retirement Study.

This graph shows the percent of Health and Retirement Study respondents who report being very satisfied with retirement by their age at retirement.


The three previous reasons to work longer were all personal. But there's a fourth, more global reason to delay retirement: It's good for society.

By working longer, people help grow the economy by paying income taxes and giving the government more resources rather than drawing upon them in the form of Social Security benefits, Johnson says.

Older workers have lots of expertise gained through years of job experience, says Peter Berg, associate director of the School of Human Resources and Labor Relations at Michigan State University. Companies that hold onto their older employees for longer stand to benefit from their knowledge. Some companies are doing that by helping their workers retrain and gain new technical skills, while others are trying to encourage their workplaces to be more friendly to employees of all ages.

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