What Neuroscientists Say About Retirement Age

What Neuroscientists Say About Retirement Age

Have you ever wondered what is the perfect age to retire? Some days we may feel like we can’t wait to retire.

Have you ever wondered what is the perfect age to retire? Some days we may feel like we can’t wait to retire. It is easy to picture an ideal life, waking up whenever we like and having plenty of time for self-care and enjoyment.

Sigmund Freud claimed that the two most important things in life were to have love and meaningful work. So what is the ideal age for retirement?

Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist, cognitive psychologist, and bestselling author believes that even if you suffer from physical impairment it is always better to keep working. He claims that too much time spent with no purpose is related to unhappiness. By staying busy, he doesn’t mean having any job but engaging in meaningful activities that could even be volunteering. Nicole Maestas from The Harvard Economist speaks about having a sense of purpose and using your brain when staying at work. She also remarks that another essential component of staying busy is social engagement. 

Levitin conducted interviews on several individuals from ages 70 to 100, to comprehend the elements that bring them life satisfaction. A common element he found in the interviewed subjects is they all continued working. Musicians like Donald Fagen and Steely Dan, who are above their seventies, claimed they had increased their workload. Others above eighty such as the Dalai Lama and George Shultz said they had adjusted their schedules to fit age-related slowing but in general terms, they still worked a lot. 


It is worth mentioning that several employers are willing to allow older adults to modify their schedules to keep working. In the United States, some workplaces even provide facilities such as break-rooms, or places to nap. Age discrimination is illegal in Canada, Mexico, Finland, and the USA. On the other hand, the European Union allows termination of contracts at the pension retirement age. However, it is still difficult for older adults to get promotions or even to be hired. To tackle this problem, countries like the USA developed the Disabilities Act of 1990 and the United Kingdom created the Equality Act of 2020. 

However, having formal employment is far from being the only alternative for staying busy. For instance, the US has the Head Start Program, an organization that enables older people to read to underprivileged children.  Also, the AARP Foundation developed a Program named Experience Corps that hires adults to work as tutors in public schools. The results of this program were astonishing, the literacy and test scores of children increased and children’s behavior also improved. The volunteers expressed feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment as well as increases in the volume of the hippocampus and cortex. Male volunteers even showed a reversal of three years of aging over two years of volunteering.

Finally, Levitin concludes that staying busy is of vital importance for people at retirement ages. However, it is equally important to engage in meaningful activities, since there is a transformative effect in helping others. The best-selling author mentions that the right teacher or mentor for a child or even an older adult can help them overcome life’s difficulties and attain a balance in their life. He highlights the important role of teaching as a way to help others and to maintain a purpose in one’s life.  

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