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Why You Should Keep Working After Retirement

Here are 8 good reasons, only one having to do with money

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Working in retirement might sound like a contradiction in terms, but that’s not necessarily the case. Just because you have moved on from your primary career doesn’t mean a part of your week can’t or shouldn’t go to some moneymaking endeavor. Part-time, freelance or consulting work—or volunteering—can add to your retirement satisfaction and round out your schedule. And then there are the financial benefits. Here are eight specific reasons to consider reentering the job market.

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1. A cushion for your savings

“Working longer is going to be a really powerful lever to increase the money available in retirement, because you’re not drawing down your savings and it gives you more of an opportunity to save,” says Anqi Chen of the Boston College Center for Retirement Research. Don’t assume you have to pound the pavement, searching for a high-paying job, because earning just a portion of your previous salary can make a difference financially; a 2020 paper from the center found that for people 62 and older, even jobs that don’t offer health and retirement benefits can substantially improve retirement security. ​

2. Exercise for your brain

The University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which has been tracking participants over age 50 for decades, “pretty strongly shows that continuing to work has benefits for cognition,” says Amanda Sonnega, associate research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. (This isn’t just because people with better cognitive health are better able to work, she says.) You can get a particular kind of benefit by switching to a different type of job or role: Learning new things—psychologists call it “novelty processing”—may help slow cognitive decline.

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3. Overall health

The transition to partial employment or volunteer work unrelated to your prior career also appears to be associated with fewer physical declines and better mental health, Sonnega says. A University of Maryland study of more than 12,000 retirees involved in the HRS research found that having a post-career job was associated with fewer major diseases and functional limitations.

4. A sense of community

The Harvard Study of Adult Development has been tracking generations of families since 1938, and one of its major findings has been how much retirement well-being depends on having good-quality relationships, says Robert J. Waldinger, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the current director of the study. Participants who were happiest in retirement replaced their old work relationships with new relationships. Doing any regular work—whether full-time, part-time or as a volunteer—creates an environment for new interactions that can develop into those new relationships.

5. A sense of purpose

A job is one motivator to get up in the morning, and one of the major findings of the HRS research was the importance of finding a new sense of purpose after retirement. “That theme of meaning and purpose keeps popping up as a major driver of a healthy retirement,” says Nathan LeBrasseur, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic. And continuing to work in some capacity is a great way to achieve that. Research shows that people with a sense of purpose feel younger in retirement.

6. A chance to give back

One of the great blessings of retirement, says Tim Maurer, a financial planner in Charleston, South Carolina, is that it gives you the opportunity to help others as well as yourself. “A great example could be someone who worked as a fashion designer teaching a class at a local vocational-technical high school or college, or a mechanical engineer working part-time at a home-improvement store as one of the friendly people who can help me find what I’m looking for.” One piece of evidence for the benefits of giving back: A 2021 study of retirees in England found that volunteer work in retirement was associated with less depression and higher satisfaction and quality of life. Improvements in volunteers’ well-being disappeared once they stopped volunteering.

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7. Good times!

Whether you’re spending time with people you like or working in an environment that coincides with your hobbies (a plant nursery! a golf course!), a job can be fun. “When evaluating opportunities, ask, ‘Does this provide me with a community of people that I enjoy?’ ” says Nancy Collamer, a retirement coach and author of Second-Act Careers. “Are there opportunities for growth, challenge or learning?” This can be an opportunity to find a job or freelance work that you always thought would be interesting, but you never tried because it paid less or had fewer employee benefits than your previous job.

8. Serving the greater good

There were 11.5 million job openings in the United States at the end of March, the highest level since the government started measuring this in 2000. While the job market varies widely by region, stories of severe worker shortages are widespread. Why not help a local business that is struggling with too few workers get through this period? Given the market, you should have ample choices to find a role you would enjoy.

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