Retirement as Meaningful

Positive expectations about retirement contribute to longevity.

Posted Feb 06, 2018

The AARP estimates that approximately 10,000 baby boomers hit retirement age every day. That is seven per minute! Many older adults have positive expectations for retirement, such as spending more time with family, traveling, or on long-neglected leisure activities. 

But not all expectations about retirement are idyllic. Indeed, many persons hold negative stereotypes about retirement. For example, cessation of employment can signal a time of decline, withdrawal, loneliness, and depression

It turns out that our expectations for retirement—whether they be positive or negative—have lasting impact on later adulthood. 

Data published in 2016—from Drs. Reuben Ng
 and Rebecca Levy and colleagues at the Yale School of Public Health—indicate that expectations about retirement matter. Indeed, they may be associated with longevity.  Their work was published in the Journal of Social Issues.

The investigators studied stereotypes—that is, a widely held but oversimplified belief—about physical and mental health during retirement. In a sample of over 1,000 older adults, positive stereotypes about physical and mental health in retirement—measured 23 years earlier—were associated with survival advantages of 4.5 to 2.5 years, respectively. 

They considered important contextual factors in their analyses, including health, gender, employment history, marital status, and race.

In other work from Dr. Levy’s research team, positive aging stereotypes were linked with a wide host of adaptive outcomes, such as faster recovery from a heart attack, fewer psychiatric symptoms, and better health. 

The power of positive thinking appears fiercely protective of life-sustaining outcomes. Cultivation of positive expectations about aging may be a powerful intervention to support health and well-being in later life. 

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