Paper Review: Why We Retire at 65


Whitley, Elise et al. – 2016 – Variations in cognitive abilities across the life course



New paper by Elise Whitley et al. on age and sex differences in IQ for n=~40,000 British sample.

  • Five tests: Word recall, verbal fluency, and subtraction (loading ~0.5 on g), and number sequence and numerical problem solving (loading ~0.7 on g).
  • Males score about 4 IQ points more on the derived g-factor of cognitive ability.
  • … though this result should be treated with caution on account of: (a) g having different structure across the sexes; (b) it is not an exception to a common problem in IQ and sex studies, namely, the undersampling of men with lower cognitive ability.
  • Better subjective health was associated with higher IQ.
  • The overall pattern across age was a plateau from the late teens to age 65, then a steep fall soon thereafter.

I would say that the ultimate and really the only reason we have mandatory retirement policies are cognitive ones.

EDIT: Emil Kirkegaard had a closer look at the results, including a nicer graph of the age/sex results:

My guess is that the intercept bias/invariance has to do with the composition of the battery. There were only 5 tests, and their breakdown was: 3 math, 1 verbal, 1 memory. Women had better memory but there was no difference in verbal fluency (this is a common finding despite what you have been told). So, the problem likely is that the g factor is colored because 60% of the tests were about math, and that men have an advantage on the math group factor.


Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Philip Owen says

    And Trump is? Oh dear.

  2. European-American says

    It doesn’t take a genius to be POTUS.

  3. Thanks. Easy to believe my word recall 🙁

  4. TomSchmidt says

    Any suggestions on what to do to offset the steep drop and make it more shallow?

  5. Gee, Anatoly, I’m almost 70 and was looking forward to my upcoming retirement to start my own blog, impress everyone with my brilliance, and be invited to post on the Unz Review. Come on! I was postponing my life’s projects to, first, better understand and, then, compete with Einstein (okay, maybe Freud … someone … anyone) since I would no longer be burdened with office work and could focus on intellectual pursuits.

    You just let the air out of my balloon, dashed my hopes, and resigned me to my fate. I think I’ll grab a beer and go sit on the front porch 🙂

  6. I am 63 and what an utter load of lllllllllllllj aoiaaaaaaaaaaaiaoooooooooooooomma mmmmmmmmmmmm

  7. Philip Owen says

    Not news but a useful update. There’s a life cycle issue this doesn’t bring out. I have seen material, decades ago – because there’s not much new in the IQ debate, that decline was fastest in those with low IQ’s while those with the highest IQ’s maintained their level longer and declined slower. So IQ 85 might start to fade fast at 55 and IQ 115 hold on until 75. If you are over 120 I would think that experience will compensate for lack of brute computing power anyway. And speaking as a greyhair I would say my social skills for getting results from base thinking capacity have hugely improved, at least in real life.

    Keep publishing AK.

    Add some pictures to your Russian pieces if you can. You are there now. 3x the readers?

    Nice positive piece about how Moscow Citi is filling up. (Huge developments take time to show a yield. They start empty). Lots of photos in that.

  8. While I sincerely hope you’re right, my word recall is fading in my mid-50’s. This may be influenced by having a very large vocabulary, or it might not. I’ve always believed I didn’t have any intelligence to spare as it was.

    One area of IQ research I’ve not encountered (it may exist) is whether there’s time line variation in development of intelligence. My early years were not characterized by flashes of brilliance and even H.S. college entrance tests were no more than above average. By the time I was in my mid-20’s, however, I hit 98th percentile on the GRE’s verbal and analytical. Being a “late bloomer” was in hindsight an enormous handicap.

  9. Trump is roughly the same age as the hard-drinking invalid he beat, Mrs Synthetic Hagfish Slime.

  10. Old claret and young women.

  11. I would say that the ultimate and really the only reason we have mandatory retirement policies are cognitive ones.

    Or you could say that the ultimate and really the only reason we have cognitive decline are because of mandatory retirement.

    I know it’s a something of an exaggeration, but work often involves mental and physical effort (i.e. mental and physical exercise), so retirement could in fact be offering the retiree the choice of “use it or lose it”.

    On retirement I have observed that many people no longer engage in any mental or physical effort – reduce social relations, and quickly go into decline. The few that build a moderately stressful physical/mental environment seem to do OK, as do those that are not able to retire such as some business owners.

  12. I’m 68, exercise intelligently , read thoughtful articles (like the one above!), memorize words of Christ, do math, science, prepare and use foods that are largely nutrient dense and healthy, socialize with smart people, and in general compensate for my aging. This takes about 2 to 5 hours daily but I have no pain, take no medications, and haven’t been to a medical doctor in decades. About 35 years ago I was so unhealthy that I was on crutches with arthritis and taking pain killers like candy. My poor mental performance and emotional stability then started gradually improving as I experimented with natural and intelligent life-styling. My chief problem was acquiring the discipline, self-responsibility, and routines to stay improving (It took years). Don’t give up, don’t settle for less, and don’t be in the center of the bell curves that this article is likely based upon. Good Luck You Guys!