The Cognition and Retirement Study: “Is working longer good for you?”

Mature Man Using Laptop And Writing In NotepadWith unprecedented increases in longevity, as a society, we are only recently starting to grapple with how older adults will want or need to spend these extra years and how this will influence their quality of life. Recent research shows that compared to those who are retired, adults of the same age who work have higher levels of cognitive functioning. However, existing studies have not examined the pathways by which retirement influences cognitive changes or the specificity of such effects across subgroups in the population. To the extent that participation in work roles contributes to cognitive health and vitality as we age, a full account of such effects will ultimately depend on a more holistic understanding of why and how retirement is related to cognitive changes in later life.

With funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, this research study is designed to identify potential mediators to age-related cognitive decline. Based on longitudinal analysis of the Health and Retirement Study data and several HRS modules, this study is testing three broad hypotheses associated with the relationship between working and cognitive performance in later life:

(1) Personal characteristics (viz., selection) mediate the relationship between cognitive performance and working versus retiring in later life.
(2) Engagement behaviors mediate the relationship between cognitive performance and working versus retiring in later life.
(3) Occupational characteristics and activities mediate the relationship between cognitive performance and working versus retiring in later life.

This project will produce new knowledge about the factors that modify cognitive performance changes during the transition into retirement, and will serve as a pilot data for an experimental study. Dawn Carr (Stanford Center on Longevity) and Robert Willis (University of Michigan) are the investigators on this project.