It’s obvious that working on into your older years provides a financial benefit. By having an income for longer, you can improve your standard of living before and after retirement. For older women, the benefits are even greater, as they typically have less of a financial buffer.

But there are other powerful reasons to keep clocking in. Evidence suggests that staying in the workforce improves social inclusion and can have a positive impact on psychological wellbeing.

Workers are also (in general) healthier, says the ABS. In 2007-8 it found older workers had lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and arthritis than their non-working peers. You might think this is because sufferers of these diseases opt out (or are forced out) of the workforce earlier but other studies validate these statistics. Even with a health condition, workers are more positive about things than non-workers.

Recent research also shows that having a sense of purpose may lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. The research defined purpose as ‘a sense of meaning and direction, and a feeling that life is worth living.’ Of course, work is not the only path to a sense of purpose, but it is often an excellent route. Plenty of existing research links a sense of purpose to psychological health and well-being, but this new analysis found that a high sense of purpose is associated with a 23% reduction in death from all causes and a 19% reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, or the need for coronary artery bypass surgery. (Truly. A Mt Sinai hospital study tells us so…)

This is all good news. However, the picture is not uniform across all types of careers. For example, a longer working life could be a problem for manual labour workers who will find the physical demands of work much more difficult as they age.

The Grattan Institute points out that this problem will decline over time, as the proportion of workers in construction, agriculture and manufacturing has dropped from 28% to 20% in the last twenty years and continues to fall. It also suggests workers in these categories could be eligible to access benefits at a younger age.

And what about tradespeople? Construction is still booming, but there may be other, more creative solutions, such as retraining as mentors or teachers, or finding a more hands-off role.

Research also highlights a distinction between highly educated workers and those who don’t have much training. Those with more education are likely to stay at work longer and be more productive as they avoid the cognitive decline often associated with early retirement. In general, better-educated workers also earn more – this acts as an incentive to keep working but also gives them more work choices as they age.

Whatever the stats, it’s worth your while to think about your options for work.

And if you could do with a sounding board, click here to book a free coffee chat (in Sydney) or Skype/phone chat (elsewhere).

Joanna Maxwell


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