Are there health benefits to later retirement?

Health Agenda
Research & Insights

Are there health benefits to later retirement?

Gone are the days when a typical working career ended at age 65. For a growing number of Australians, delaying retirement brings a sense of meaning, connection and better health.

Kathy* has been running a successful women’s fashion boutique for the past 12 years. It’s work she loves and, at 72 years of age, she’s in no hurry to stop.

“It definitely has benefits – especially mentally,” she says. “It keeps my brain on the ball – doing the paperwork, managing the accounts, doing the buying for the next season. It’s harder on the body because I stand all day, but you just keep going!”

Her transition at age 60 from being an employee to running her own business was as much a matter of luck as judgement. Kathy had been employed at the boutique for three years and she’d long thought that, if she were ever to own a business, this was the one. Then her boss decided to sell up.

“I had no intention of buying a business,” says Kathy. “But I thought, I’m not ready to retire yet, and I had years of experience behind me, so I just fell into it and continued from there.”

Branching out on her own didn’t come without its challenges, but her age was never an issue.

“Sixty’s not old!” laughs Kathy. “And it was a fairly natural progression for me – I’d started out designing and making dresses for my girls from home, which launched me into sewing for well-known baby shops around the country.”

Australians are retiring later

We’re living in an ageing society and typically living longer, healthier lives. We’re also increasingly remaining in the workforce beyond what’s deemed the ‘official’ retirement age.

According to an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report, 13% of Aussies aged 65 and over were officially employed in January 2018, compared to 8% in 2006. This “is likely to increase as the retirement intentions of Aussies change”.

In turn, this is changing society’s attitudes to older workers. It’s not yet a perfect model but so far there have been advantages for both employers and employees.

Physical benefits of delaying retirement

Of course, there are financial benefits to staying on at work for longer, especially given COVID-19 has changed many people’s financial capacity to retire.

But there’s plenty of evidence, too, that working into your 60s, 70s and beyond helps to keep your mind and body active. It can also generate a sense of purpose, involvement and value – all of which contribute to our overall health and wellbeing.

According to a 2018 Harvard Medical School health report, some studies have shown that people working beyond the age of 65 were three times more likely to report being in good health, and about 50% less likely to have serious health problems than their retired counterparts.

Mental health benefits of later retirement

Dr Marlene Krasovitsky, co-chair of EveryAGE Counts, an Australia-wide campaign to end ageism, agrees that working beyond the retirement age can offer important benefits for wellbeing.

“Many older people want the connection that work brings,” she says.

An increasing number of older workers like Kathy are choosing self-employment, or what’s been called the ‘seniorpreneur’ path. This in turn contributes $11.9 billion a year to our economy, as reported in 2018 by COTA Australia (Council on the Ageing).

“There’s a growing trend of older people inventing their own work,” says Dr Krasovitsky. “Research suggests that as a career option, it’s a flexible alternative and can offer an attractive work-life balance or generate additional income.”

For Kathy, the decision to keep working has led to a long, happy and still-fulfilling career. “Don’t hold back. Give it a try,” she advises. “I did all of this on my own!”

Words by Sally Feldman
This article first appeared in the July 2021 edition of Health Agenda magazine.

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