Part time work may have health benefits for retirees

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For people who had been considering retirement but now remain in the job market because of the economic slump, there may at least be a salubrious silver lining. According to a study published in the October issue of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, retirees who transition to a part-time or temporary job before leaving the work force altogether may be less likely to face major diseases and more likely to keep up daily functions, compared with those who go straight from a full-time career into full-time retirement.

The study included more than 12,000 people between the ages of 51 and 61, who were interviewed every two years between 1992 and 1998. During interviews, which generally lasted one to two hours, they were asked about their overall health, finances, employment history, and current job or retirement lifestyle. As part of the interviews, they were also asked to complete a basic mental health evaluation. They found that, physical health and day to day functioning were better maintained among those who found “bridge employment” between their careers and retirement, a finding the researchers say is consistent with findings on continuity theory—or the idea that continuing to use critical thinking and daily functioning skills helps keep them sharp. “This may be due to the fact that when the retirees engage in bridge employment, they are likely to keep their levels of physical activities and mental activities through daily work,” they write.

What’s more, remaining in the workforce may enable people to remain embedded in society, and have more daily interaction with other people, factors that have been shown to help maintain both physical and mental health. In contrast, they write, “[f]ull retirement might lead to significantly less social contact and fewer daily activities for many retirees.

With regard to mental health, the researchers found that those retirees whose transition jobs were in their career fields were more likely to have better overall psychological well being than those whose jobs were outside of their career expertise. “This may be due to the fact that retirees, who engage in bridge employment in a different field, need to face the stress coming from role change and adapting to the new work environment.”