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Last Updated: Monday, 18 September 2006, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Would more work be good for you?
By Ian Pollock
Personal finance reporter, BBC News

Sir Mick Jagger (63) performing at Twickenham, August 2006
He can't get no satisfaction, but is still working in his sixties

When the new law against age discrimination comes into effect on 1 October it could bring a dramatic opportunity for millions of workers.

Those whose employers stipulate a retirement age of 60 will now find they can work on until at least 65.

If their employer does not like that idea they will have to come up with a very good reason - not related to age - to justify the enforced retirement.

The government hopes that people will take advantage of the new law to work for a few more years and help ease the burden on their pension schemes.

Good for your health?

Financially, those who work past their former retirement age should be better off.

For many it will be positively beneficial
Prof Tom Kirkwood

They will earn for longer and if they defer their pension, it will be larger when they do eventually draw it.

But not so long ago the idea that working longer might also be good for your health would not have had much support.

Trade unions campaigned for decades for workers to retire at 60 - and work fewer hours each week as well - precisely to avoid their members retiring and then dropping dead soon after, worn out from a life of toil.

It still happens, but modern medical opinion now seems to be that a few extra years of work in your early 60s will not harm most people and could in fact be beneficial.

Professor Tom Kirkwood is director of the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University.

"Most have nothing to fear," he says.

"For many it will be positively beneficial - provided the jobs are not damaging and provide some challenge and satisfaction."

He argues that work provides meaning and purpose for many people and that ending it suddenly through complete retirement can be quite damaging and stressful.

Ageing well, he says, involves retaining a positive attitude towards ones future, and having a job you are at least content to continue with is part of that.

Heavy work

Of course for some, retiring as early as possible is a blessing, either because their ability to do a job is impaired by illness, or because the job itself is physically demanding or stressful.

Characters from the 1970s BBC comedy Last of the Summer Wine
More work for the over 60s may come as a surprise for some

Professor Chris Drinkwater is a spokesman for the Royal College of GPs.

He points out that mental and physical fitness does deteriorate with age, albeit at widely varying rates.

So those who do heavy physical jobs, firefighters for instance, might not thrive on more work.

Nor would those who depend on mental agility and a high level of eye and hand coordination, such as aeroplane pilots.

But Professor Drinkwater agrees that if people work voluntarily for a few more years it will probably be good for their health.

"It keeps both your body and brain engaged and that does have health benefits," he says.

The social benefit of working is important too.

"The evidence is that people with good social networks do better."

Increased longevity

So if many are, on the whole, going to be healthier for working a longer, will that have any effect on life expectancy?

We can't use age as a measure of how fit and active people are - there is a huge variation
Richard Jones, IOSH

Strangely enough, no one seems to have asked the question.

The Office for National Statistics, which works out the official population and mortality projections for the government, has not been asked.

Neither has the Government Actuaries Department, nor the Institute of Actuaries.

But perhaps the government does not need to worry about the life expectancy issue.

One reason it wants us to work longer is precisely because we are, on average, continuing to live longer anyway.

People are now much healthier in their early 60s than they were a few decades ago, as shown by the sharp fall in the mortality rates at that age.

Figures published by the actuarial profession last year, based on the most recent analysis of data from life insurance companies, showed that the death rate for people in their late 60s had dropped by around 30% since 1994.

Meanwhile the government's own life expectancy figures show that back in 1981 a man aged 65 could expect to live, on average, for another 13 years.

But by 2004 that had risen by nearly four more years to 16.7 years.

Could that be extended even further if our working lives are prolonged too?

Dave Grimshaw, who runs the Institute of Actuaries' research into longevity (known as the Continuous Mortality Investigation) reckons nothing dramatic will be visible.

"The impact is likely to be very gradual over time," he says.


Some suspect that people who work beyond the age of 60 may be at a greater risk of having an accident.

But existing statistics compiled by the Health and Safety Executive paint a mixed picture.

For men, the rate of non-fatal injuries at work peaks in their late 30s and early 40s and then declines steadily.

However, the rate bumps up by 5% for those aged 60 to 64, compared with those between 55 and 59, before falling again very sharply after 65.

Even so, the age 60-64 accident rate is still 12% lower than the rate for all age groups.

For women the accident rate, which is generally much lower than for men, hits a gentle peak in their late 50s before falling away.

Like their medical counterparts, health and safety advisors believe that most people have nothing to fear from working for a few more years in their early 60s.

"This legislation will not affect many people in a detrimental way," says Richard Jones, of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH).

"It gives people choice where in the past employers might have put an artificial cap on working."

"Wear and tear sets in," he says. "But we can't use age as a measure of how fit and active people are - there is a huge variation."

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