Retirement and Personality

There are many different reasons someone might choose to retire or not retire at a particular point in their life. Which means that there are also many different ways the decision to retire can affect someone’s mental health.

Still, psychologists have looked to see if there are any broad patterns in what retirement means for mental health. One of the ways they’ve approached this question is by looking at how retirement interacts with people’s personalities. Do certain personality changes tend to occur before or after retirement, and do people’s personality traits predict how they’ll respond to being retired?

As you might imagine, the change in lifestyle that comes with transitioning from working a full-time job to being retired can lead to shifts in people’s personality. A study published in January found that people tend to suddenly become more open and more agreeable in the first month of their retirement, although this abrupt change fades somewhat over the course of the next five years.

The same study found that people generally became more emotionally stable in the years immediately preceding and following retirement. However, there were also substantial individual differences in how people responded to retirement that the researchers were unable to explain.

Not all the changes surrounding retirement appear to be positive. For example, another study by the same researchers found that, on average, people experience decreases in self-esteem in the five years before retirement, followed by stable levels of self-esteem in the five years after. Once again, though, the researchers point out that individual differences are significant.

Given these individual differences in what retirement means for people’s mental health, it also makes sense to ask whether people with certain personality traits get more out of retirement.

The answer appears to be yes, to an extent anyway. A 2009 study showed that people with low scores on the personality trait of neuroticism and high scores on the trait of extraversion reported having higher retirement satisfaction. Similarly, those who scored higher on extraversion were more active in retirement. On the other hand, personality differences did not appear to predict in advance whether people would decide to retire.

Together, these results don’t give a simple answer about how retirement fits into the broader picture of mental health. But they do highlight the fact that retirement is a major life change that has implications for mental health and even personality. So even if retirement has a different psychological meaning for different people, being aware of, open to, and patient with the mental adjustment it entails might be a helpful starting place.

Image: Flickr/steeleman204