Early Retirement, Early Death?

A study by Josef Zweimuller, Andreas Kuhn and Jean-Philippe Wuellrich at the University of Zurich suggests that early retirement could lead to an earlier death. Specifically, they estimated a decrease of 1.8 months in lifespan for each year a person retires early.

The researchers looked at data from Austria, where workers in some regions of the country were allowed to retire up to 3.5 years earlier than workers in located in other regions. The group was comprised of blue-collar workers born between 1929 and 1941. The study found that, for every year they retired early, men incurred a 2.4 percentage point increase in incidences of premature death, defined as dying before age 67.

What caused the earlier death rates? Changes in health-related behavior, particularly smoking, drinking, an unhealthy diet and little physical exercise were the primary culprits. Heart disease (mostly heart attacks), diseases related to excessive alcohol consumption and vehicle injuries accounted for 78% of the causal retirement effect.

That’s the bad news. Now for some good news.

Voluntary early retirement did not cause a shorter lifespan. Furthermore, the causal relationship between early retirement and premature death did not exist for women. The researchers theorize that women may be more health conscious or they may be more active due to their higher involvement in household activities.

The last point may be the most important. Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, co-authors of the Freakonomics books and blogs, suggest that health may be adversely affected by inactivity related to retirement. Not only can inactivity lead to worse physical health, it can also adversely impact mental health. In a recent segment on the radio show “Marketplace,” Dubner aired a quote from University of Florida psychologist Mo Wang, who observed that working gives people a way to structure life.

Though data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the percentage of workers over the age of 65 is at its highest level in more than 50 years, Dubner opines that “work” is what you define it to be. A hobby that keeps a person occupied may have the same benefit as a paying job.

Sources: “Fatal Attraction? Access to Early Retirement and Mortality,” VOX, March 25, 2012; “Why Early Retirement May Not Be Good for Your Health,” Marketplace, May 16, 2012.


Glen Goss from MA posted about 1 year ago:

I wonder what percentage of the causes for early retirement were health related rather than poor health being caused by retirement.

Helen Keegan from FL posted about 1 year ago:

I am 94, retired at 65 and traveled widely (19 countries). I am a woman so I am always busy and love my life!

F Giedt from CA posted about 1 year ago:

I'm 87 and retired at 65 from California State University Northridge. We have very active programs for retired faculty, including clubs for book reading, attending movies, playing bridge and bird watching. I also have volunteered working with our China Institute in selecting scholarship recipients and other projects.

Carolyn Stewart from CA posted about 1 year ago:

I am 92, retired 20 years ago from the Stanford University Libraries, but have been busier than ever since then. Six years ago I moved to a retirement community which is owned and run by the residents. I live in the independent living section, and enjoy the various committees - especially the library committee where my past work experience is very helpful. Good health is important, too.

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