Post-retirement cognitive declines were almost three times more acute among White Americans compared with their Black peers, and twice as large for men as for women.
That's according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. It found that immediately after retirement, white adults tended to experience a significant worsening of cognitive function, whereas for Black retirees the decline was minimal.
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White men experienced the steepest post-retirement cognitive decline, while Black women showed the least, according to the study, which tracked 2,226 participants over a period of up to 10 years. The findings were adjusted for socio-demographic variables as well as indicators of physical and mental health.
The results suggest that "exposure to lifelong structural inequalities may actually ease transition to retirement with respect to cognitive aging," said lead author Ross Andel of Arizona State University's Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. That's because longstanding racial disparities in US education and hiring practices mean that Black workers have faced substantial barriers to entry into more engaging jobs, Andel said.
Another potential explanation cited in the study for why Black Americans adjust to retirement with less cognitive decline is that they have access to "better established social support networks and cultural practices that favor community cohesiveness to a greater extent than is typical for White adults."
Higher-income men, especially White men, also experience significant cognitive declines immediately before retirement too, according to the researchers "- a finding that suggests some people undergo a "mental retirement" or disengagement from work before they physically retire.
"White workers, and particularly White men, may be more likely to experience a greater loss of identity, engagement, and life direction as they enter retirement," the study found.