Thursday, December 01, 2016

Research: Cognitive Aging May Not Link to Declining Productivity

According to a review of recent research comparing the productivity of workers in their 20s to workers in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, age appears to be unrelated to performance in most occupations. This is contrary to suggestions that cognitive aging might hinder working longer due to declining fluid intelligence. In an Issue Brief--"Cognitive Aging and Ability to Work"--by Anek Belbase and Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher, the authors note that :
  • key reasons are that declining fluid intelligence is often offset by accumulated knowledge, and reserve fluid capacity can act as a buffer against decline; and
  • only a minority of workers are vulnerable: those in jobs that require very high levels of fluid intelligence, and those who experience cognitive impairment.
Furthermore, "as people age, improvements in knowledge appear to largely offset declines in fluid intelligence, and the amount of fluid capacity that most workers have through their late 60s seems to offer a sufficient buffer against any declines."
However, some groups of older workers are vulnerable to cognitive decline. Workers in jobs that require a high degree of fluid intelligence (which can include those who end up shifting careers) or who experience a cognitive impairment are likely to have trouble extending their work lives.

As policymakers consider ways to encourage working longer, they may want to pay close attention to the potential impact of any proposed changes on such workers, as well as the effects on disability and unemployment programs that could see increased demand.

Source: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Brief IB#16-18 (November 2016)

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