Working Life Expectancy Tied to Job Stress

Older adults are enjoying greater longevity and those who are fortunate to stay in good physical and cognitive health may be wondering what age is ideal to take retirement.  Traditionally, 65 has been the magic number, but with a growing life expectancy, many seniors aren’t ready to slow down or they still need a steady paycheck.  Experts recently gave their findings on the ideal work-span for healthy, disability-free older adults – and the findings might surprise you. 

According to a recent New York Times Live report, economist researcher Gal Wettstein at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College conducted a study in 2021 about working life expectancy.  He found that American adults who are healthy at age 50 can expect to have about 23 further years free of disability, with an additional eight years living with a disability.  The research suggests the maximum working life expectancy today would be 73 in the U.S. 

Besides greater life and health spans, the type of work many people participate in has changed and evolved.  Many professions today are knowledge-based, including jobs in management, business, finance, education, and healthcare.  When the retirement age was set at 65 in 1935, few people held these positions and more worked in physically demanding jobs. 

Cognitively, although adults do start to lose brain volume beginning around age 45 in the areas associated with executive function, attention and working memory, other aspects of cognition continue to improve for decades.  Most adults continue to have their cognitive capabilities intact well into their 70s.  Accumulated knowledge and social intelligence can give older employees an advantage over their younger counterparts. 

Because work challenges individuals both cognitively and physically, while also providing vital social connection, many older adults decline mentally and physically after retirement.  But if work is causing high levels of stress, or physical strain, retirement at age 65 can be the right choice and improve health outcomes.