Study: Retiring Early Might Actually Kill You

Life & Culture Editor
04.19.16
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We all dream of the day we can retire. If not because we can finally swear at all those co-workers we hated before granting one person a “you’re cool” before announcing “I’m out,” then because it finally means that every day becomes a Saturday. Getting up at 7 a.m.? Forget it. Eating chocolate and watching TV all day? Hell yeah!

Sounds awesome right? Well, bad news: A new study reveals that those of us who retire early are also at a higher risk of dying early, too. According to a study done at Oregon State University, retiring early might actually be problematic for your health. Pacific Standard reports that the study, which was done longitudinally (participants were followed for 18 years between 1992 and 2010) asked 2,956 Americans about their work and reasons for retirement and found that regardless of whether people retired early due to health reasons or not, retiring even a year later could lead to a drop in mortality rate.

From PS:

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 retirees 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.”

So why does the risk of death go up for people who retire early? Well, it’s not due to economic factors. What researchers have found, however, is that one’s work environment can provide health benefits (hard to imagine when the majority of your work day is spent hating Hank from accounting) and be an important part of one’s personal identity. In addition, retirement is considered a stressful life event. Going from working 40 hours a week to doing nothing may sound pretty good for a couple of weeks, but it can soon lead to depression, anxiety, and the existential angst of wondering where you fit in the world and what exactly you should be doing with your life now. And with life expectancies increasing, if one retires at 60, they could have 20 years or more of trying to figure out exactly what it is they should be doing. Imagine the weight that must have when you’re trying to fall asleep at night!

PS points out that the study’s authors suggest that this kind of information may lead to policy changes on retirement — keep Americans working! Postpone retirement! Reduce early retirement incentives! But it’s also important to note that more research should go into exactly what having a healthy retirement looks like. Traveling the world, for instance, might help with that “where is my life going” malaise. So could taking up a new hobby. Or volunteering. Or driving race cars and flying airplanes in your 80s. It’s a spectrum. Do you, just don’t slow down!

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