The effect of retirement on cognitive functioning

Health Econ. 2012 Aug;21(8):913-27. doi: 10.1002/hec.1771. Epub 2011 Aug 4.


Cognitive impairment has emerged as a major driver of disability in old age, with profound effects on individual well-being and decision making at older ages. In the light of policies aimed at postponing retirement ages, an important question is whether continued labour supply helps to maintain high levels of cognition at older ages. We use data of older men from the US Health and Retirement Study to estimate the effect of continued labour market participation at older ages on later-life cognition. As retirement itself is likely to depend on cognitive functioning and may thus be endogenous, we use offers of early retirement windows as instruments for retirement in econometric models for later-life cognitive functioning. These offers of early retirement are legally required to be nondiscriminatory and thus, inter alia, unrelated to cognitive functioning. At the same time, these offers of early retirement options are significant predictors of retirement. Although the simple ordinary least squares estimates show a negative relationship between retirement duration and various measures of cognitive functioning, instrumental variable estimates suggest that these associations may not be causal effects. Specifically, we find no clear relationship between retirement duration and later-life cognition for white-collar workers and, if anything, a positive relationship for blue-collar workers.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Cognition*
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupations / statistics & numerical data
  • Retirement / statistics & numerical data*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Time Factors