Retirement and cognition: A life course view

Nicole Denier, Sean A.P. Clouston, Marcus Richards, Scott M. Hofer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


This study examines the relationship between retirement and cognitive aging. We build on previous research by exploring how different specifications of retirement that reflect diverse pathways out of the labor market, including reason for leaving the pre-retirement job and duration spent in retirement, impact three domains of cognitive functioning. We further assess how early-life factors, including adolescent cognition, and mid-life work experiences, condition these relationships. To do so, we draw on longitudinal data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, a cohort study of Wisconsin high school graduates collected prospectively starting in 1957 until most recently in 2011 when individuals were aged 71. Results indicate that retirement, on average, is associated with improved abstract reasoning, but not with verbal memory or verbal fluency. Yet, when accounting for the reason individuals left their pre-retirement job, those who had retired for health reasons had both lower verbal memory and verbal fluency scores and those who had retired voluntarily or for family reasons had improved abstract memory scores. Together, the results suggest that retirement has an inconsistent effect on cognitive aging across cognitive domains and that the conditions surrounding the retirement decision are important to understanding cognitive functioning at older ages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-21
Number of pages11
JournalAdvances in life course research
StatePublished - Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive aging
  • Life course
  • Longitudinal model
  • Retirement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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