Thursday, August 10, 2017

No stress after retirement, think again

Many of us believe that we’ll finally be able to relax once we retire. It’s understandable to hang a lot of hopes on this phase of life. It’s easy to imagine how sweet, and stress-free, life could be if we didn’t have to go to work. Well, the problem with this image is that another important factor goes alongside it – in order to really be stress-free, we’d need to have plenty of money.

A new paper published in the Journal of Gerontology suggests that the period around retirement may widen socioeconomic inequalities in stress and health.

Poorer people, or people in low-status occupations, often have poorer health and higher biological stress response levels. The socio-economic-health gradient peaks around retirement in the United States and a number of European countries. This widening in health inequalities could be a reflection of the accumulation of socioeconomic disadvantages over a lifetime, with early life inequalities in health becoming magnified over the life cycle.

Retirement, however, could potentially moderate this pattern of widening health inequalities if changes in biological stress levels during retirement differ between socioeconomic groups. Higher stress levels associated with lower status work could be mitigated by retirement.

Retirement was associated with lower stress levels- those who had recently retired had lower stress levels when compared to those who remained in work. But on further investigation, this apparent benefit of retirement on lowering biological stress response levels was only confined to those in high-status jobs. Workers in the lowest status jobs had higher stress levels compared to those in the top jobs. And retirement increased, rather than decreased these differences in biological stress levels.

This study has shown that British civil servants employed in the lowest status jobs had the highest levels of stress compared to those in the highest status jobs. Socio-economic differences increase, rather than decrease, around the retirement period. These biological differences associated with transitions into retirement for different occupational groups may partly explain the pattern of widening social inequalities in health in early old age.

It may seem counter-intuitive that stopping low-status work which may be stressful does not reduce biological levels of stress, said the study's lead author, Tarani Chandola. "This may be because workers who retire from low-status jobs often face financial and other pressures in retirement. This study suggests that people's stress levels are not just determined by immediate circumstances, but by long run factors over the course of their lives.

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