Complex Job Now, Sharp Mind Later

Job complexity tied to better thinking skills and memory at age 70

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The problem-solving, negotiating and analytical skills you use at your job might pay off in the long run. New research suggests that people with more complex jobs may have better thinking skills when they're older.

The authors of a recent study found that people who had jobs that required complex thinking were sharper thinkers and had better memories at age 70 than people who had less complex jobs.

"These results suggest that more stimulating work environments may help people retain their thinking skills, and that this might be observed years after they have retired," said study author Alan J. Gow, PhD, of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, in a press release.

Dr. Gow and colleagues studied 1,066 men and women from the UK. They were 69.5 years old on average.

These researchers recorded the jobs the participants had during their working years. They assigned a measure of complexity to each job.

Each job was classified by how complex it was in regard to participants' interactions with data, people and things. Dr. Gow and team assigned a number from 0 to 8 to each job.

For instance, a job that required handling objects, such as a packer, was assigned a less complex job classification (0) than jobs that required precision equipment operation (6).

Data handling jobs that required copying or comparing were ranked as not complex (1). Those that required data analysis were considered more complex (4).

Likewise, jobs that required taking instructions were classified as not complex (0). But those that required supervising (5), negotiating (7) or advising/training (8) were ranked higher in complexity.

When Dr. Gow and team compared the results of the testing with the complexity of a person’s job, they found a connection. Study participants whose jobs involved more complex work with other people (as in law or social work) or with data (as in architecture) had better thinking skills at age 70 than people who had held less complex jobs.

The authors noted that the effect of job complexity on thinking skills later in life was small. Having worked a complex job accounted for thinking skills that were 1 to 2 percent sharper than those who had less complex jobs, Dr. Gow and team found.

These researchers said that people with better thinking skills might end up with more complex jobs. They also said jobs that require complex thinking might boost brain function.

This study study was published online Nov. 19 in Neurology.

Grants from the Research Into Ageing program and the Age UK-funded Disconnected Mind project funded the research. The study team declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 21, 2014
Last Updated:
March 10, 2015