Retiring from top jobs linked to lower levels of stress

A new study has found the time period around retirement may widen the socio-economic inequalities regarding stress and overall health in individuals.

Researchers found retirement is associated with lower stress in people who were employed in high status jobs. Photo by Kzenon/Shutterstock
Researchers found retirement is associated with lower stress in people who were employed in high status jobs. Photo by Kzenon/Shutterstock

The study, published in the Journal of Gerontology, showed the socio-economic-health gradient is at its highest point at retirement in the United States and some European countries.

The widening in health inequalities may be a reflection of the accumulation of socio-economic disadvantages over a lifetime, with early life inequalities in health changing over the life cycle.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that goes along a diurnal profile, meaning it peaks about 30 minutes after waking and then returns to much lower levels by bedtime. Stress can disrupt the diurnal profile of cortisol causing elevated levels of cortisol and a flatter diurnal slope.

Researchers measured levels of cortisol in workers who had recently retired and examined whether they had lower biological stress levels shown by a more dramatic diurnal cortisol decline compared to later in life.

Retirement was associated with lower stress levels, but the benefit was seen most strongly in individuals with high status jobs. In comparison, workers in lower status jobs had less dramatic diurnal cortisol slopes than those with high status jobs.

“It may seem counter-intuitive that stopping low status work which may be stressful does not reduce biological levels of stress,” Tarani Chandola, lead author of the study, said in a press release. “This may be because workers who retire from low status jobs often face financial and other pressures in retirement.”

By Amy Wallace