Early retirement may be a very bad idea. In a new study, two Brookings scholars analyzed data on subjective happiness and work taken from the Gallup World Pull data. They found that voluntary part-time workers tended to report the highest happiness and work satisfaction. But more interestingly, it found that reducing time worked has diminishing returns. The retired, it turns out, are less happy than late workers:
Late-life workers (i.e., those working past retirement age) working full-time or voluntarily employed part-time were typically happier and more satisfied with their health than their retired counterparts. The positive effects were greatest, meanwhile, in those countries where more flexible labor market arrangements were more common (and thus publicly acceptable).
The causal patterns here are difficult to untangle. Obviously those people who can afford to work in a voluntary part-time capacity are usually more affluent than those who need to work full-time jobs, which could account for the happiness differential. Likewise, similar factors could complicate the analysis about late-life workers. Still, this is more evidence that work is a key aspect of human well-being. In America today we tend to circumscribe work around a very narrow time frame. You’re not expected to really have a job until after college (or later, if you take gap years) and you’re supposed to aim to work as hard as you can throughout your middle years to make retirement as early and easy as possible.But maybe this is looking at things all wrong. Instead of conceptualizing work as a painful interlude between two periods of fun, perhaps we should see it as a necessary attribute of human life that children should be introduced to as early as possible and adults should stick with as late as possible.