David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
from the world's big
Start Learning

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.

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?

Live tomorrow! Unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT tomorrow.

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

Keep reading Show less

Improving Olympic performance with asthma drugs?

A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.

Image source: sumroeng chinnapan/Shutterstock
Culture & Religion
  • One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
  • A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
  • The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.

Keep reading Show less

Weird science shows unseemly way beetles escape after being eaten

Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.

R. attenuata escaping from a black-spotted pond frog.

Surprising Science
  • A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
  • The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
  • Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
Keep reading Show less
Mind & Brain

Why are we fascinated by true crime stories?

Several experts have weighed in on our sometimes morbid curiosity and fascination with true crime.

Scroll down to load more…