For many folks, retirement can be a mixed blessing. Having more leisure time can spark new interests and hobbies and bring a reduction in mental and physical stress. For others, getting older may trigger worries about money and a whole host of health concerns. A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research asks, “Does Retirement Improve Health and Life Satisfaction?”
The answer? Yes, it does. Retirement can offer real and measurable value in terms of positive outlook and health. “Our findings are consistent with the view that retirement is a good time in life that many people look forward to,” says Aspen Gorry, one of the study’s authors.
The study found strong evidence that retirement can improve physical and mental health and life satisfaction -- although it might take a few years for the health benefits to show.
“The most surprising findings from our study were the positive long-run effects both in subjective well-being, or happiness, and in the objective health measures,” says Gorry. “For subjective well-being, most studies find that happiness returns to a baseline level so that life events only have temporary effects. Our findings for retirement contrast with that typical result.”
The study notes that it can take up to four years for any health benefits to become apparent. “For the objective health measures, past studies have not found effects of retirement on such measures,” explains Gorry, “so we think that looking at longer term patterns has helped us uncover significant effects since health typically changes slowly over time.”
And just what kind of retirees participated in the study? “Our results are based on the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS), which collects data to be a representative cross-section of people in the United States,” Gorry explains. “We only analyzed individuals who had reported working for the last 20 years so our results represent this group. We looked to see whether there were differences across gender, race, education, type of job and marital status and the results were pretty consistent across all these different groups.”
As Americans face longer and more extended life expectancies, they also can expect to have longer retirements. However, the study did not find that retirement drove people to use more health care services. Nor did it find that the use of these services by new retirees would likely drive up costs for public health care systems.
NBER conducted the research as an effort to guide policymakers on legislation that could extend the time that people spend working and delay their Social Security and Medicare benefits. “For example, if retirement worsens health and generates increased health care utilization, then policies that delay retirement may further Medicare’s finances and make individuals better off,” the report stated. “Alternatively, if retirement improves health, then policies that promote delayed retirement to shore up the fiscal budget may have hidden fiscal costs and negatively impact individuals.”
By using more recent data and studying changes in health outcomes, the study noticed improvements in long-term health outcomes that had not been found in past studies: “This is the first paper to discover positive long-term effects in measurable health outcomes for U.S. retirees.”
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