Retirement might not be the stress-buster you’d been hoping for

Retirement is associated with lower levels of stress, but only in those with high-status jobs, according to a new paper published in the Journal of Gerontology.

The researchers, from University College London, looked at data gathered from civil servants based in Whitehall. They found that throughout life poorer people, or people in low-status occupations, have generally poorer health and higher biological stress response levels.

During retirement these health inequalities widen further, as those in high-status occupations become more relaxed in old age and, as a result, more healthy.

The researchers aimed to find out if workers who had recently retired had lower biological stress levels as indicated by their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

They assessed samples taken from 1,143 respondents with an average age of 60. Five blood samples were taken during a normal working day. Their employment grade was categorised as ‘high’, middle or ‘low’ according to a civil service banding system.

The study shows that British civil servants employed in the lowest status jobs had the highest levels of stress compared to those in the highest status jobs, and that socio-economic differences in cortisol levels increase, rather than decrease, around the retirement period.

The study’s lead author, Tarani Chandola, said: ‘It may seem counter-intuitive that stopping low status work which may be stressful does not reduce biological levels of stress. This may be because workers who retire from low status jobs often face financial and other pressures in retirement. This study suggests that people’s stress levels are not just determined by immediate circumstances, but by long run factors over the course of their lives.’