April 20, 2016

Over-40s perform best with three-day working week, says Australian study

People aged over 40 perform best in their jobs when they work 25 hours a week, according to a study published by the Melbourne Institute.

The researchers found that in tests designed to measure cognitive ability, the performance of over-40s improved as their working week increased to 25 hours, the equivalent of three working days.

However, past 25 hours, their performance decreased, and those working 55 hours a week performed worse in the tests than retired or unemployed participants.

The authors noted that there was no statistical difference in the results between men and women.

Professor Colin McKenzie of Keio University, co-author of the study, commented that as countries raise their state pension ages, more people will work into later life, which could have either positive or negative impacts on brain function depending on the number of hours worked.

He said: “We point out that differences in working hours are important for maintaining cognitive functioning in middle-aged and elderly adults. This means that, in middle and older age, working part-time could be effective in maintaining cognitive ability.”

The study involved 3,000 male and 3,500 female participants in Australia, all aged over 40.

Andrea Garnero has written an article for IZA World of Labor asking whether part-time workers are less productive and underpaid. He writes that: “While the impact on firm productivity is not yet clear, part-time work is often accompanied by a wage penalty […] Carefully designed family policies and a cultural shift in attitudes are needed to fight more effectively against discriminatory forms of segregation, provide effectively equal treatment for full- and part-time workers, and make the option of part-time employment useful and convenient for all occupational levels.”

Elsewhere, Carol Graham has written for us about late-life work and well-being. She argues that: “Flexible work time and retirement options are a potential solution for the challenges of unemployment, aging populations, and unsustainable pensions systems around the world. Voluntary part-time workers in Europe and the US are happier, experience less stress and anger, and are more satisfied with their jobs than other employees. Late-life workers, meanwhile, have higher levels of well-being than retirees.”

The University of Melbourne working paper, Use It Too Much and Lose It? The Effect of Working Hours on Cognitive Ability, can be downloaded here.

Related articles:
Are part-time workers less productive and underpaid? by Andrea Garnero
Late-life work and well-being by Carol Graham
Is training effective for older workers? by Matteo Picchio
Redesigning pension systems by Marek Góra