Clouston & Denier, 2017. Mental retirement and health selection: Analyses from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study


Background: Research has recently suggested that retirement may decrease cognitive engagement, resulting in cognitive aging. Few studies have systematically documented whether or how selectivity into retirement shapes the relationship between retirement and cognitive aging.

Methods: We draw on data from the Health and Retirement Study (1998–2012) to examine the relationship between cognition and retirement for 18,575 labor force participants. Longitudinal regression discontinuity modeling was used to examine performance and decline in episodic memory. Models differentiated three forms of selection bias: indirect and direct selection as well as reverse causation. To further interrogate the disuse hypothesis, we adjust for confounding from health and socioeconomic sources.

Results: Results revealed that individuals who retired over the course of the panel were substantially different in terms of health, wealth and cognition when compared to those who remained employed. However, accounting for observed selection biases, significant associations were found linking longer retirement with more rapid cognitive decline.

Discussion: This study examined respondents who were in the labor force at baseline and transitioned into retirement. Analyses suggested that those who retired over the course of the panel had worse overall functioning, but also experienced more rapid declines after retirement that increased the rate of aging by two-fold, resulting in yearly losses of 3.7% (95% CI = [3.5, 4.0]) of one standard deviation in functioning attributable to retirement. Results are supportive of the view that retirement is associated with more rapid cognitive aging.