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Should you being filling out a job application along with your retirement application? A meaningful job has positive consequences for your health.

There's no doubt that the always-on culture of many jobs since the popularization of the smartphone is major source of chronic fatigue and job burnout. But the fundamental problem isn't working, it's the need to have a meaningful occupation.

Jobs Create Our Identity

Jobs are an integral part of our daily lives. In many cases, even our names reflect our ancestors' jobs, whether it's an English Baker, an Italian Ferraro (blacksmith), or a German Reister (the guy who took care of the horses for the calvary). In many of the richer countries of the world where retirement is possible at age 60, age 55, or even earlier, many people continue to define themselves by their work. In a Gallup poll conducted in 2014, 55 percent of Americans reported that their jobs were very important to their self-identity, that number rising to 70 percent among college graduates. 

What's different about work in the modern world? Before the twentieth century, our identities determined our jobs. If you were born into a family of Bakers or Smiths or Farmers, chances were that you would perform the same jobs as your ancestors had before you. In the twenty-first century, however, it's more often the case that your job determines your identity, as people drift farther and farther away from their extended families.

Effects of Unemployment Go Beyond Financial Stress

Social scientists and public health researchers have documented the effects of not having any job at all in considerable detail. When people lose their jobs, they typically lose daily contact with many of their friends. They cease to be a part of the culture of their company or their skill group. They often don't have the money they need to keep up with health issues, and their ability to provide food and shelter for their families can become tenuous. Anxiety, depression, and stress-related conditions like high blood pressure become predictably common.

The more fortunate retirees don't experience financial stress when they retire, and are not appreciably more at risk for stress-related conditions like high blood pressure and insomnia. However, after about 10 years of retirement at any age, inactivity take a toll. Retired people and chronically unemployed people are:

  • Less likely to be able to walk a mile (a little under 2 km) without resting.
  • Less likely to be able to climb three flights of stairs without resting.
  • Less likely to be able to bend over for daily personal hygiene activities like making up the bed, washing the face, and personal cleansing after using the toilet.
  • Less likely to be able to bend down to put on socks and tie shoes. 
  • Less likely to be able to carry a weight of 20 pounds (approximately 10 kg) or more.
  • Less likely to be able make detailed movements with the fingers, for example, to peel an apple, or to use a screwdriver.

Even if your job consisted of sitting at a desk or behind a computer, not having a job usually results in deterioration of basic physical skills. And even if your job involved physical labor, for every year you continue working, your long-term risk of developing dementia decreases by 3 percent.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Bailey, C, Madden, A. What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless. MIT Management Reviews. Summer 2016.
  • Seitsamo J, Tuomi K, Martikainen R. Activity, functional capacity and well-being in ageing Finnish workers. Occup Med (Lond). 2007 Mar
  • 57(2):85-91. Epub 2006 Oct 16. PMID: 17043089.
  • Infographic by
  • Photo courtesy of jakerust:
  • Photo courtesy of jakerust:

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