Americans are putting off retirement past the age of 65 — how does that change aging? | St. Louis Public Radio

Americans are putting off retirement past the age of 65 — how does that change aging?

Sep 15, 2016

Earlier this summer, the Pew Research Center released a report that found nearly 19 percent of Americans over the age of 65, nearly 9 million people, were working full- or part-time. That percentage has steadily increased since 2000.

Dr. John Morley, M.D., a SLUCare geriatrician and director of geriatrics at the SLU School of Medicine, joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh to discuss how putting off retirement impacts the aging process and other issues.

So, why exactly are older people working later in life?

“Part of it is that we had the Great Recession and therefore people didn’t have as much money to retire as they were expecting to,” said Dr. Morley. “The other piece is obviously, we’re living healthier and longer and so people who would have retired say, ‘look, I’m still highly functional and I want to continue to work.’”

But not all work late in life is created equal. Morley said if someone wants to continue working and is happy, it’s a good thing. Alternatively, strenuous work can be a disservice late in life.

When does our performance peak?

“Many of us as we get older can’t function quite as well as we did and we have to recognize that maybe taking another job if we stay in the working market, perhaps at a slightly lower reimbursement makes sense,” Morley said. “If you look at industrial psychology, it shows that people peak at about 35 and they stay at about the same until they’re 55.

“After 55, you start to go downhill,” Morley continued. “So, you’ve got to recognize that you may not be as good as a young person and we’ve got to recognize that it’s not ageism, perhaps, to replace somebody because the other person is doing better but try to find a job that will work for the other person.”

Men vs. Women

Most older American workers are men.

“This is about the last group or generation where men used to work and women used to stay home and bring up children,” Morley said, acknowledging that women could of course do the work, but historically did not. Plus, Morley said because many women were not part of the workforce earlier in life, it is harder for them to get in it today.

While more older men than women are officially in the workforce, Morley said “work” is a deceiving term that doesn’t quite encapsulate the entirety of what’s being done. “A lot of older people work extraordinary hard as caregivers,” Morley said. “They often burnout doing that but there is little or no credit given to the informal caregiver.”

In terms of delaying the onset of dementia and other negative effects of aging, Morley suggested several healthy lifestyle practices. Maintaining a good diet and exercise are good ideas as are doing such things as keeping your mind actively engaged by participating in book clubs and listening to NPR, of course.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.