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New Study: 40 Somethings Should Work Less than 40 Hours a Week

Looking for your keys? Did you just walk into a room and forget why? Can’t remember the name of that guy you met at the networking lunch last week?

While George Carlin famously said these moments make you think “Alzheimer’s Disease” recent research has a different answer. If you are over 40 and still working 80 hours a week, it turns out your work schedule may be to blame.

The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics has been conducting a long term research project called the Household Income and Labor Dynamics Australia assessment. Ongoing since 2001 it has measured dozens of facets of family life, the labor market and overall wellness. One study challenges the common advice “Use it or Lose it” when it comes to preserving overall mental acuity as we age.

While many studies have looked at the link between retirement and cognitive function, this study examined how the quantity of work impacts it. Evaluating 3000 men and 3500 women age 40 and over on standard measures of cognitive function, the study found that as the number of hours worked rose, cognitive function declined.

Should all 40 somethings just checkout and play golf five days a week? Perhaps, “Check In” at “Margaritaville”?

Up to a point, work can actually improve cognitive function. For men, positive effects were seen working between 25 and 30 hours. Women saw the same benefit between 22 and 27 hours. The study suggests that as workers age they could benefit from working 25-30 hours per week.

However, work in excess of 30 hours may have a detrimental effect on workers as they age according to the study. Cognitive tests administered throughout the study showed the ability of participants to recite lists, read aloud and perform matching tasks all declined as work hours increased.

Typically, American workers between the ages of 35 and 54 are making the highest annual income of their careers indicating, at least in the US, we are not likely to take this limitation too seriously. Full time American workers currently average 47 hours per week, with 39 percent reporting they work 50 or more according to a Gallup survey.  Gallup also noted that engaging work environment boosted an individual’s sense of well-being in the same study participants.

One has to wonder though, if those engaged employees over 40 working crazy hours can read a bedtime story or match clean socks as well as their peers working part time.

If you’re over 40…it’s Five O’clock Somewhere!


Stacey Lennox

Stacey Lennox

Stacey Lennox spent 15 years in executive management for Fortune 500 companies before starting Buzz Strategies & focusing on small business success. And a bit of political activism. You can find her on Twitter at @Scotsfyre and hear her as an occasional guest on The Loftus Party podcast.

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