Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said that she’d be work into her nineties. Which begs the question, retirement, what is it good for?
Is early retirement bad for you? How about retirement at all? Several studies have emerged in recent years grappling with the question. The authors of one such relevant study from 2019 entitled “Early-life predictors of retirement decisions and postretirement health” were able to analyse the health and retirement outcomes for a group of 742 Scottish individuals born in 1936.
This particular group had first been studied in 1947 by other researchers, with follow-up studies periodically conducted ever since. This afforded authors Matthew Iveson and Ian Deary, both members of The University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, a trove of data covering all bases; from social class, education and intelligence to career type, earnings and circumstances leading up to retirement.
The researchers sought for what conditions and traits pertained to the younger years of those who experienced poor retirement health. In contrast to previous studies, it was found that the age of retirement was a non-factor. What did have the greatest correlation with poor retirement health though was whether the retirement was involuntary. That is, the individual in question was let go.
This doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Consider another study from 2019: “The Retirement Mortality Puzzle: Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design,” by Matthias Giesecke, a researcher at RWI Essen, an economic research institute in Essen, Germany. He analysed a database from the German Social Security system that harboured numerous data points on the same participants. He found that, on the surface, retirement age had no connection to either an increase or a decrease in mortality.
What he did find, however, was the following: “I conclude that retiring from bad jobs with low earnings or hazardous work conditions tends to be health-improving while retiring from good jobs with high earnings and more prestigious occupations is dominated by adverse health effects.”
Ginsburg remains a testament to the benefits of never retiring if your work is important and purposeful. Ginsburg found great meaning in her work, deciding to stay on the Supreme Court to continue fighting for what she thought was right until the end—all while dealing with five episodes of cancer over the years.
Following Giesecke’s thoughts, it seems that retirement can be detrimental to those who love their job or find purpose/recognition in it, but those in low-paying/hazardous roles may find health and/or peace in retirement.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died from complication of pancreatic cancer at the end of last week, leaving behind a legacy as a fierce advocate for gender equality and women’s rights, not to mention a strong voice on the highest court in the United States. As her loss puts the future of the Supreme Court into question, the public discourse will likely soon focus on whether she was right in refusing to succumb to the pressure to retire during Barack Obama’s second term, allowing him to appoint another liberal judge in her place.
Whatever the case may be, Ginsburg remains a testament to the benefits of never retiring if your work is important and purposeful. Ginsburg found great meaning in her work, deciding to stay on the Supreme Court to continue fighting for what she thought was right until the end—all while dealing with five episodes of cancer over the years.
“The work is really what saved me, because I had to concentrate on reading the briefs, doing a draft of an opinion, and I knew it had to get done,” Ginsburg told Totenberg in 2019, discussing her dedication to the court even as her health suffered. “So I had to get past whatever my aches and pains were just to do the job.”
As clinical psychology Wendy Lichtenthal recently explained, for those who are ill and contemplating the end of their lives, “Your work can be a legacy, and your choice to work can be a legacy.”