Early retirement linked to an accelerated decline in cognitive ability, research suggests

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New research in China has looked into links between early retirement and cognitive and social abilities.

An examination of China’s New Rural Pension Scheme (NRPS) and the Chinese Health and Retirement Longitudinal Survey (CHARLS) has led to a link between a decline in cognitive ability among those who choose to retire early. The researchers, Plamen Nikolov, assistant professor of economics, and Shahadath Hossain, a doctoral student in economics, both from Binghamton University, highlighted that a new formal pension program led to significant adverse effects on cognitive functioning among the elderly.

Obtaining administrative data from the Chinese government regarding the pension program, the researchers discovered that the most significant effect of the early retirement scheme led to a delay in recall among its pool of participants and that the decline in cognitive function occurred more in females that retired early than in males.

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While Nikolov and co-authors found that pension benefits and retirement lead to improved health, the program also induced a stark and much more negative influence on other dimensions: social activities, activities associated with mental fitness and social engagement.

Speaking about the results, Nikolov wrote: “Participants in the program report substantially lower levels of social engagement, with significantly lower rates of volunteering and social interaction than non-beneficiaries. We find that increased social isolation is strongly linked with faster cognitive decline among the elderly.”

“Interestingly,” he continued, “we found that the program improved some health behaviours. Program participants reported a reduced incidence of regular alcohol drinking compared to the previous year. Overall, the adverse effects of early retirement on mental and social engagement significantly outweigh the program’s protective effect on various health behaviours.”

The official retirement age in China for men is 60, while women in managerial positions have a retirement age of 55 and blue-collar female workers can retire at 50. China is currently struggling with its ageing population, leading to plans to increase the retirement age “gradually” by 2025.

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