Retire Early, Die Early

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For healthy workers, retiring even a year early raises the risk of mortality.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Many workers have a simple attitude toward retirement: the sooner, the better. If you have the financial resources to assume a life of leisure, why not do so?

Newly published research provides a stark and compelling answer: You will likely hasten your own death.

That’s the conclusion of a research team led by Oregon State University’s Chenkai Wu and Robert Stawski. They report that, in a large-scale longitudinal study, “early retirement was associated with increased mortality risk.”

This held true for both healthy and less-than-healthy retirees, and was independent of a variety of socioeconomic and lifestyle-related factors.

The longitudinal study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, featured 2,956 older Americans who participated in the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study. They were periodically surveyed from 1992 (when all were still working) to 2010 (when all were fully retired).

Quit your job, lose those health-boosting benefits.

Following their retirement, each participant was asked whether poor health was a factor in their choice to stop working. Those who said “not at all” were designated as “healthy retirees,” while the others were classified as “unhealthy retirees.”

They also provided demographic information, including their marital status and level of education, and health-related information such as body mass index, history of smoking, and alcohol consumption.

The researchers found that, among healthy retirees, “a one-year older age at retirement was associated with an 11 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality” — even after taking the aforementioned factors into consideration.

“Similarly, unhealthy retires had a lower all-cause mortality risk when retiring later,” they add. “Early retirement may be a risk factor for mortality, and prolonged working life may provide survival benefits among U.S. adults.”

The reasons for this “are generally not well understood,” the researchers concede. “One possible explanation is employment is a key component of individuals’ identity that provides them with substantial financial, psycho-social, and cognitive resources.”

Quit your job, lose those health-boosting benefits.

Furthermore, “retirement could be a stressful life event,” leading to “anxiety and depression” among people who suddenly have no structure or purpose in their day-to-day existence. Such stress has long been associated with poorer health.

In any case, the policy implications are pretty clear: Americans should be encouraged, even more strongly, to keep working. “Reducing early retirement benefits, providing social and economic incentives to prolong working life, and enacting policies to postpone retirement may be beneficial for individuals’ health,” the researchers conclude.

So if you’re thinking about taking early retirement, you should probably think again. It might be sweet to tell your boss goodbye forever, but is it really worth a year of your life?