Engaging in bridge employment—
defined as part-time, temporary or self-employment—as a transition to permanent retirement may enhance the health of older adults, according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology (2009; 14 [4], 374–89). Data analysis from 12,189 retirees
enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study formed the basis for this finding.

Researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park, and California State University, San Bernardino, examined the association between retired older adults engaged in bridge employment and the incidence of major diseases, the presence of functional limitations and mental health. Compared with those who transitioned directly to full retirement, those who held bridge jobs in their own or a different field had fewer incidences of heart disease, cancer, arthritis or other major diseases and had fewer limitations related to daily living activities. Retirees who engaged in part-time, temporary or self-employment in their career fields had better mental health than those working in new fields.

Study co-author Mo Wang, associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Maryland, told HealthDay, “There are tons of reasons why working is good for you. When you work, you have a daily structure. You do more physical activity. Working provides financial resources, social context, opportunities to interact and to learn new skills. Working can also be good for self-esteem and nurturing a sense of identity.”

Study limitations included the fact that the examination of potential health variables was not exhaustive, the underlying mechanisms for why bridge employment was beneficial to health were not addressed and the reasons why retirees undertook bridge employment and its relative impact on health outcomes were not examined. In addition, survey data was collected in 1998, and the findings may not generalize to today’s population. Study authors recommended more research.