There are three main topics in research on the effects of work on health. The first topic is workplace accidents where the main issues are reporting behavior and workplace safety policies. A worker seems to be less inclined to report a workplace accident for fear of job loss when unemployment is high or when the worker has a temporary contract that may not be renewed. Workplace safety legislation has intended to reduce the incidence and severity of workplace accidents but empirical evidence on this result is unclear. The second topic is employment and health where the focus is on how job characteristics and job loss affect health, in particular mental health. Physically demanding jobs have negative health effects. The effects of working hours vary and the effects of job loss on physical and mental health are not uniform. Job loss seems to increase mortality. The third topic concerns retirement and health. Retirement seems to have a negative effect on cognitive skills and short-term positive effects on overall health. Other than that, the effects are very inconsistent, that is, even with as clear a measure as mortality, it is not clear whether life expectancy goes up, goes down, or remains constant due to retirement.
Jan C. van Ours
Fabrizio Mazzonna and Franco Peracchi
Population aging, the combined effect of declining fertility and rising life expectancy, is one of the fundamental trends observed in developed counties and, increasingly, in developing countries as well. A key aspect of the aging process is the decline of cognitive ability. Cognitive aging is an important and complex phenomenon, and its risk factors and economic consequences are still not well understood. For instance, the relationship between cognitive aging and productivity matters for long-term economic growth. Cognitive functioning is also crucial for decision-making because it influences individuals’ ability to process information and to make the right choices, and older individuals are increasingly required to make complex financial, health, and long-term-care decisions that might affect their health, resources, and welfare. This article presents evidence from economics and other fields that have investigated this phenomenon from different perspectives. A common empirical finding is the hump-shaped profile of cognitive performance over the life cycle. Another is the large variability of observed age profiles, not only at the individual level but also across sociodemographic groups and countries. The age profiles of cognitive performance also vary depending on the cognitive task considered, reflecting the different combinations of cognitive skills that they require. The literature usually distinguishes between two main types of cognitive skills: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. The first consists of the basic mechanisms of processing new information, while the second reflects acquired knowledge. Unlike fluid intelligence, which declines rapidly as people get older, crystallized intelligence tends to be maintained at older ages. Differences in the age profiles of cognitive performance across tasks partly reflect differences in the importance of these two types of intelligence. For instance, tasks where learning, problem-solving, and processing speed are essential tend to be associated with a faster decline, while tasks where experience matters more tend to be associated with a slower decline. Various life events and behaviors over the life cycle also contribute to the large heterogeneity in the observed age profiles of cognitive performance. This source of variation includes not only early-life events and investments (e.g., formal education), but also midlife and later-life events (e.g., health shocks) and individual choices (e.g., health behaviors or retirement). From an economic viewpoint, cognitive abilities may be regarded as one dimension of human capital, along with education, health, and noncognitive abilities. Economists have mainly focused their attention on human capital accumulation, and much less so on human capital deterioration. One explanation is that early-life investments appears to be more profitable than investments later in life. However, recent evidence from neuropsychology suggests that the human brain is malleable and open to enhancement even later in adulthood. Therefore, more economic research is needed to study how human capital depreciates over the life cycle and whether cognitive decline can be controlled.
Dania V. Francis and Christian E. Weller
U.S. workers need to save substantial amounts to supplement Social Security, a near-universal but basic public retirement benefit. Yet wealth inequality is widespread by race and ethnicity, so that households of color often have less wealth than White households. This wealth inequality is reflected in a massive retirement savings gap by race and ethnicity, so that households of color often have less wealth than White households. In 2016 Black households had a median retirement savings account balance of $23,000, compared to $67,000 for White households. Many people of color will face substantial and potentially harmful cuts to their retirement spending. They may, for example, find it more difficult to pay for housing or healthcare. This retirement gap is the result of several factors. Households of color, especially Black and Latino households, are less likely to receive large financial gifts and inheritances from their families. They have less wealth decades and often centuries of discrimination and exploitation in society. They thus have to save more for retirement on their own. Yet Black, Latino, and many Asian American workers face greater obstacles in saving for retirement than is the case for White workers. These obstacles are especially pronounced in retirement savings accounts. People of color have less access to these retirement benefits through their employers, contribute less due to greater concurrent economic risks, and build less wealth over time due to less stable earnings and more career disruptions. As a result, people of color often use home equity as a form of retirement savings, but they also face more financial risks associated with homeownership. In addition, many people of color face higher costs during retirement, especially higher healthcare costs and more widespread caregiving and financial responsibilities for family members. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many of the obstacles and risks associated with retirement saving for people of color, who experienced sharper increases in unemployment and more widespread healthcare challenges due to greater exposure to the virus. Many Black, Latino, and Asian families had to rely more heavily on their own savings during the pandemic than was the case for White households. A range of public policies have been proposed or implemented, especially at the state level, to address some of the obstacles that people of color face in saving for retirement. Retirement researchers will need to investigate whether and how the pandemic has affected racial differences in retirement security as well as analyze how new policy efforts could shrink the racial differences in retirement wealth.
Susan Averett and Jennifer Kohn
An individual’s health is produced in large part by family investments that start before birth and continue to the end of life. The health of an individual is intertwined with practically every economic decision including education, marriage, fertility, labor market, and investments. These outcomes in turn affect income and wealth and hence have implications for intergenerational transfer of economic advantage or disadvantage. A rich body of theoretical and empirical work considers the role of the family in health production over the life cycle and the role of health in household economic decisions. This literature starts by considering family inputs regarding health at birth, then moves through adolescence and midlife, where relationship decisions affect health. After midlife, health, particularly the health of family members, becomes an input into retirement and investment decisions. The literature on family and health showcases economists’ skills in modeling complex family dynamics, deriving theoretical predictions, and using clever econometric strategies to identify causal effects.
Courtney Van Houtven, Fiona Carmichael, Josephine Jacobs, and Peter C. Coyte
Across the globe, the most common means of supporting older disabled adults in their homes is through “informal care.” An informal carer is a family member or friend, including children or adults, who help another person because of their illness, frailty, or disability. There is a rich economics literature on the direct benefits of caregiving, including allowing the care recipient to remain at home for longer than if there was no informal care provided. There is also a growing literature outlining the associated costs of care provision. Although informal care helps individuals with disabilities to remain at home and is rewarding to many carers, there are often negative effects such as depression and lost labor market earnings that may offset some of these rewards. Economists have taken several approaches to quantify the net societal benefit of informal care that consider the degree of choice in caregiving decisions and all direct and indirect benefits and costs of informal care.
Life-cycle choices and outcomes over financial (e.g., savings, portfolio, work) and health-related variables (e.g., medical spending, habits, sickness, and mortality) are complex and intertwined. Indeed, labor/leisure choices can both affect and be conditioned by health outcomes, precautionary savings is determined by exposure to sickness and longevity risks, where the latter can both be altered through preventive medical and leisure decisions. Moreover, inevitable aging induces changes in the incentives and in the constraints for investing in one’s own health and saving resources for old age. Understanding these pathways poses numerous challenges for economic models. The life-cycle data is indicative of continuous declines in health statuses and associated increases in exposure to morbidity, medical expenses, and mortality risks, with accelerating post-retirement dynamics. Theory suggests that risk-averse and forward-looking agents should rely on available instruments to insure against these risks. Indeed, market- and state-provided health insurance (e.g., Medicare) cover curative medical expenses. High end-of-life home and nursing-home expenses can be hedged through privately or publicly provided (e.g., Medicaid) long-term care insurance. The risk of outliving one’s financial resources can be hedged through annuities. The risk of not living long enough can be insured through life insurance. In practice, however, the recourse to these hedging instruments remains less than predicted by theory. Slow-observed wealth drawdown after retirement is unexplained by bequest motives and suggests precautionary motives against health-related expenses. The excessive reliance on public pension (e.g., Social Security) and the post-retirement drop in consumption not related to work or health are both indicative of insufficient financial preparedness and run counter to consumption smoothing objectives. Moreover, the capacity to self-insure through preventive care and healthy habits is limited when aging is factored in. In conclusion, the observed health and financial life-cycle dynamics remain challenging for economic theory.