Dr. David Martin, professor emeritus at Georgia State University and a leading expert on distance running, defines aging as “… the price we pay for living”.

retirement age

This to me is the most accurate definition of aging. As long as you are alive, you cannot escape it.

Although we all agree that no one can withstand the effects of time forever, the bone of contention has been when age renders us unfit for work. When are you supposed to retire from your job?

This is what two researchers – Anek Belbase and Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher – from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College set out to establish ( http://www.nber.org/programs/ag/rrc/rrc2015/papers/6.2%20-%20Belbase,%20Sanzenbacher.pdf)

The notion that white-collar workers could work longer than blue-collar workers was something they especially wanted to investigate. They also wanted to find out whether some jobs (either blue- or white-collar) were better than others at allowing people to work longer.

How they did it

While the decline in physical and mental performance is inevitable, it does not occur at the same rate across all body systems. This means that the different abilities people use to perform tasks at work decline at different rates as a person ages.
For the study, a “susceptibility index” that measures how susceptible to decline the abilities required by an occupation are during the working years of an individual was created. The goal was to use the index to identify occupations that placed importance on abilities that declined early, and then explore whether workers in those occupations would retire earlier regardless of whether their occupation was blue- or white-collar.


The research found that standard models of early retirement which assumed that blue-collar occupations were more susceptible to ability decline than white-collar occupations to be true. This is because blue-collar occupations typically involve physical work that cannot be done as easily by older people. But wait, there’s more! The susceptibility index also showed that some white-collar occupations were also susceptible to early ability decline.

The results showed that retirement age is determined by a job’s need for abilities that decline as the worker ages, and not the job’s nature – whether blue- or white-collar. Blue-collar jobs are however more likely to fall in this category.

Policymakers, therefore, need to consider the financial ramifications on blue-collar workers when making changes like increasing the retirement age as these workers might not be able to respond by working longer. This is because their jobs require skills that decline quicker (on average) than those used by white-collar workers.

What are your thoughts?