Drawing on analysis of longitudinal studies of 3771 Australian women between 2001 and 2011, Dr Zhu found that retirement had positive and significant effects on women’s physical and mental health. This research was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
“Many developed countries have talked about the benefits that could flow from raising the retirement age, but this research shows that working into older age has its own costs,” Dr Zhu said.
“Women participating in the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey were asked to report their physical and mental health status over a ten year period.
“Our analysis of the results show that longer time spent in retirement results in additional health benefits. Women who were retired were typically involved in more physical activity and reduced their smoking rates.
“When we consider the cost of reduced health on women, raising the retirement age results in greater welfare and health costs than previously thought.”
Dr Zhu has published a series of papers on the relationship between health and work for older workers and has recently completed research demonstrating that the timing of when a woman retires tends to impact upon the health of her husband, if she is married.
“The HILDA data shows that if a wife is retired, it has a positive impact on her husband’s physical and mental health. Furthermore, the beneficial effect of a wife retiring earlier on her a husband’s mental health accumulate as the couple grow older,” Dr Zhu said.
“This certainly should not be construed as a sign that women should be made to retire early to support men – but it is a sign of the importance of relationships between couples and the impact of relationship dynamics on health.
“At the moment, women need to reach the age of 65 to get independent retirement payments in Australia, creating a disincentive to retire early. This reduces the cost of pensions to the government, but this research shows that it also is likely to result in an increase in health costs.
“This research has many implications for policy and for better understanding the dynamics that affect people at the end of their working life.
“For women who prefer to keep working into older age, we need to find ways to better support the health of them and their partners, so these previously hidden costs of postponing retirement are taken into account.”
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