Postpone Retirement for Your Health

Retirement leads to poorer health, according to a new study by Britain’s Institute of Economic Affairs. Author Gabriel Sahlgren found that retirement has an adverse impact on both physical and mental health.

Sahlgren bases his research on data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). The data group covered between 7,000 and 9,000 individuals aged 50 to 70 years old at the time of the first interview. Sahlgren looked specifically at changes in health over various stages and factored in the number of years that was spent in retirement.

What he found is that not only does retirement adversely affect health, the number of years spent in retirement also impacts health. Specifically, he found that being retired led to:

  • A 39% reduction in the likelihood of describing one’s health as “very good” or “excellent,”
  • A 41% increase in the probability of suffering from clinical depression and
  • A 63% increase in the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical condition.
  • Doubling the number of years spent in retirement:
  • Decreased the likelihood of being in “very good” or “excellent” health by 11%,
  • Increased the probability of suffering from clinical depression by 17% and
  • Increased the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by 22%.

Commenting on his findings, Sahlgren concluded, “It is found that whereas the short-term impact of retirement on health is somewhat uncertain, the longer-term effects are consistently negative and large.” He further stated, “The findings are in line with research showing that general practitioners note a drop in various health indicators as a result of early retirement, despite the fact that their patients often believe that retirement has positive effects on their health.” Sahlgren does acknowledge, however, that the type of work was not measured, meaning there could still be different health effects for those engaged in manual labor versus those who perform office work.

This new research backs up a study we discussed last year. University of Zurich researchers estimated a decrease of 1.8 months in lifespan for each year a person retires early. (See “Early Retirement, Early Death?” in the Briefly Noted section of the June 2012 AAII Journal.) Though several factors determine when to retire, we will point out that there is a financial benefit to waiting: more salaried years and fewer years of relying on savings.

Source: “Work Longer, Live Healthier,” Institute of Economic Affairs, May 2013.


Jim from WA posted over 2 years ago:

As a retiree at 55 from an eligible retirement plan, I don't know if I'm considered and "early retiree" but do know that I would gladly give up 1.8 months of my latter life for every day I have been away from my previous career!

DAB from WA posted over 2 years ago:

There's not enough info about the study to really comment, much less conclude retirement causes poorer health or decide to work longer to be healthier.
To ask the obvious: How does "being retired" lead to "doubling the number of years spent in retirement"? Is this just sloppy reporting?
How was the design & data handled to remove the effects of age?
Were working & non working stress and physical activity levels evaluated?
Were systematic dietary changes evaluated?
Without any description of the study design and such questions and others reported, its potentially misleading to publish such summaries about any study. I expect better than that from AAII.

Jonathan Silverberg from NY posted over 2 years ago:

Couldn't agree with you more, DAB...

Jeff from Minnesota posted over 2 years ago:

As the Brits would say, "this study is a muddle." Unless, you can look at the underlying methodology and data, I don't think you can draw much of any conclusion about it. It could be, not surprisingly, that on the average somewhat healthier people are able to work longer.

I'm pushing 68 and will retire in a few months. I don't think I'm a great deal healthier than my friends who've been dropping out of the workforce at a lesser age than me.

Usually, AAII has informative articles. This one misses the mark badly.

Charles Rotblut from IL posted over 2 years ago:

The study this article was based on can be found at

Coincidentally, Bloomberg has an editorial about the topic of retirement health this morning:

What I have not seen is a study distinguishing between staying employed, being retired and very active, and simply being active. My guess is that the first two would both contribute to better health, while a decrease in activity would lead to worse health outcomes. (And yes, I realize poor health does lead to less activity.)

-Charles Rotblut

Joseph Novotny from WY posted over 2 years ago:


Victor Stankevich from NC posted over 2 years ago:

As already noted, the study is missing too many critical variables; e.g., what type of work did the subjects do? how old were they when they stopped working? what was their sense of purpose? what did they do in retirement? how did men and women differ?

Scott Ries from KY posted over 2 years ago:

Having grown up in a retiree area (Florida), and as a current psychotherapist in a psychiatry department, I have noticed that there are two types of states of mind of retirees: one group who sees retirement as an opportunity to pursue new things, and another group who sees retirement as the last significant thing that happens before death. Not suprisingly, the former group holds up well, both physically and mentally, while the latter group tends towards depression and lethargy.

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