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Health Care
Healthy Lifestyle
Personal Finance
Your Financial Life
By Chase Squires / Mar 16, 2017

Loneliness: The New Smoking?

TA_Blog_1024x438_lonelieness You may have spent decades planning your retirement financing, but research says you may be ignoring something just as important as secure finances: how you’ll spend the leisure time you’ve saved for.

The Stanford Center on Longevity’s Sightlines Project looked at a key − and overlooked − retirement factor called “social engagement.” What they found is that research shows Americans are becoming less socially connected as they retire, and that could risk their well-being.

“Socially isolated individuals face health risks comparable to those of smokers,” the study reported. “Their mortality rate is twice that of obese individuals.”

So having friends and things to do is, in fact, a matter of life and death.


“Social connectedness is basically a sense of belonging, a feeling that you have a place in the world and that you matter,” said Amy Yotopoulos, director of the Center’s Mind Division. “It affects your health and well-being in ways that are as impactful as healthy activities such as exercise or eating well.”

Yotopoulos said research shows as workers retire, they lose daily routine connections with co-workers, clients, and customers, the people they had lunch with or engaged in conversation. Without preparation and planning for how to fill that gap in retirement, they risk isolation and, potentially, loneliness.

“One of the areas that we’re interested in pursuing here at the Stanford Center on Longevity is developing a diverse social portfolio, much like you would a financial portfolio,” she said. “You want to make sure in times of change, whether it’s being an empty nester, retirement, or unfortunately, when a spouse is deceased, that you have other ways of interacting socially.”

Losing touch

The Center, based at Stanford University, found today’s 55- to 64-year-olds are less likely to be socially engaged than their predecessors. They have weaker ties to family, friends, and neighbors. And they are less likely to engage in religious and other community activities than those at the same age just two decades ago.

Yotopoulos said workers should plan for life after retirement.

“A ‘social portfolio’ is just as important as getting a financial portfolio together. As you’re planning your retirement, it’s important to think about who you’ll be wanting to interact and spend time with,” she said.

Yotopoulos said studies are looking at the benefits of retirees volunteering, but surveys have found there are some barriers to volunteering and it may not be as straightforward as that may seem.

“The reasons (survey participants) give for not volunteering is they don’t have enough information, and nobody asks them,” she said.

Most retirees who do volunteer began doing so long before they retired.

Role of advisors

Retirees can look at how to maintain social engagement through meaningful relationships and meaningful activities. And your financial professionals are often in a good place to start the conversation about living the retirement years with intention and purpose, in line with individual goals and values.

“Attorneys and financial advisors find themselves in these conversations with people all the time if they’re talking about wills and advanced directives,” Yotopoulos said. “They’re the ones who have time. They’re sitting down for an hour or more with their clients.”

Those conversations, she said, come up as you are making life choices such as where to live or how you want to spend your time, in alignment with your financial resources and goals.

The full Sightlines Project, including sections on social engagement, healthy living, and financial security, is online at Sightlinesproject.stanford.edu.