Looking Forward to a Stress-Free Retirement? Not So Fast Says This New Study

The stress we take on at work now will surely pay off in retirement, right? Well, brace yourself.

Looking Forward to a Stress-Free Retirement? Not So Fast Says This New Study

Most of us dream of a stress-free retirement. Sure, we might have to put up with some stress now, but it will all be worth it after we can kick back for the rest of our lives. The stress we take on now will surely pay off and disappear later, right?

Well, it seems like this is only partly true if you are a low-level employee.

A study of stress levels in both high- and low-level workers showed that low-level employees not only endure higher stress levels during their period of employment, but also see lower reductions in stress levels after retirement than their high level counterparts.

The study, by Tarani Chandola, was undertaken in Britain by recording the levels of cortisol in the saliva of 1143 civil service workers. The civil service was selected for its hierarchical structure and general standardization of work conditions throughout. Making conclusions about rank and conditions easier to draw than if the study was done in, say, online writing.

Despite expectations, workers at the top showed fewer biological signs of stress than those at the bottom while employed; but the researchers were more shocked to find that stress levels failed to decrease at the same rate after retirement for high- and low-level workers. The differences between the respective stress levels of the workers was higher after retirement than it was while they were working, with high-level workers seeing larger reductions in their already lower stress levels than their counterparts.

Why is this a problem?

High levels of the stress hormone are associated with poor sleep, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Because of these associations, this study suggests that workplace conditions may have a tremendous effect on health later in life. This difference in stress hormone becomes a problem of health care expenses, and the ability to enjoy life after working.

What might be the direct cause?

Now, correlation is not proof of causation, but it can hint to a limited connection. It is known that stress levels of older adults are heavily influenced by wealth, financial security, and adequate pension arrangements”. Considering that lower level workers are likely going to be the least well-off in all of these areas, it is less surprising that work stress will carry over into retirement for these workers.

Now, while this study was done with civil workers in Britain, the basic finding is applicable to workplaces the world over. As the lead researcher noted, “The fact that we were able to find such an association between stress and occupational status in this relatively privileged group of workers suggests the problem is much greater in other occupations, where working conditions for people in low status jobs are much tougher.

Stress from work sticks around. Not only after quitting time, but after years of retirement for some of us. This discrepancy shows us that health can be influenced for years by socioeconomic factors, and that the effects of inequality can go far beyond mere matters of money.

Maybe it's time for a new job?

A brief history of human dignity

What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.

Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree / AdobeStock
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
  • That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
  • We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
Keep reading Show less

Mathematical model shows how the Nazis could have won WWII's Battle of Britain

With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.

Photo: Heinrich Hoffmann/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
  • Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
  • A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Keep reading Show less

We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.

See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.

Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash
Surprising Science

Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.

Keep reading Show less

New data reveals Earth closer to a black hole and 16,000 mph faster

A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.

Position and velocity map of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Credit: NAOJ
Surprising Science
  • A Japanese radio astronomy project revealed Earth is 2,000 light years closer to the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way's center.
  • The data also showed the planet is moving 7 km/s or 16,000 mph faster in orbit around the Galactic Center.
  • The findings don't mean Earth is in more danger from the black hole but reflect better modeling of the galaxy.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Technology & Innovation

    How has technology changed — and changed us — in the past 20 years?

    Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.

    Scroll down to load more…