Public Costs of Hard Work: Lifetime Job Characteristics and Retirement Behavior

by Lauren Hersch Nicholas, University of Michigan

The majority of American adults work for pay for many years between early adulthood and Social Security benefit receipt.  Though links between health and retirement are well-documented, little is known about how the cumulative health effects of occupations influence workers’ ability to work later in life.  This project will link all lifetime jobs reported by Health and Retirement Study (HRS) respondents to a comprehensive set of job characteristics collected by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network.  We will use factor analysis techniques to develop summary measures of job characteristics such as whether positions require strength or repetitive motion (physical demands); provide cognitive stimulation (cognitive complexity); or offer little control over task completion (physiological demands).  We will use these data to describe age at retirement and initial Social Security benefit claiming (through Disability Insurance or retirement benefits) and health (to assess ability to work) at common retirement ages.  We will compare rates of chronic conditions such as arthritis and Alzheimer’s Disease that are plausibly determined by cumulative job characteristics (for example repetitive physical motions or non-cognitively complex jobs) at age 62 and 65 for workers with different job characteristics.  The results of this study will provide important information about the health consequences of increasing the number of years that older workers, especially those with physically demanding jobs, spend working, as well as the physical capacity for work at older ages.

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