If work doesn't kill you, retirement just might.
Although retirement is supposed to be the icing on the double-chocolate layer cake that is the American dream — time to go fishing on Tuesday morning or shopping on Wednesday afternoon — many Americans find their retirement dreams are cut short by serious health issues. These include heart disease, stroke, cancer, dementia and mental illness. What's worse, studies show that the trigger for many of these health problems might even be retirement itself!
Dhaval Dave, a health and labor economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, has closely studied the so-called “retirement curse,” and says that the best data indicate that the negative health effects of retirement are real.
“If we look at the average American five to six years after retirement,” Dave says, “we're finding a 6 to 9 percent decline in mental health, a 5 to 6 percent increase in illness condition, and a 5 to 16 percent increase in difficulties with daily activities. These are definitely not small effects, and if you compound them over many years, they will have appreciable consequences on healthcare spending.”
As an economist, Dave's main concern is whether social programs like Medicare will be able to pay for chronic medical conditions, especially as baby boomers continue to retire in large numbers. But for regular working folks, the concerns are much more personal. How can they stay healthy into their 60s and 70s to enjoy this long-awaited break? And what is it about retirement that makes it bad for our health?