Will Retiring Early Help You Live Longer?

There are lots of reasons to retire early, but will it help you live longer as well? One study seems to suggest so, and is often cited in websites discussing early retirement. Dr. Sing Lin wrote a paper in 2002 called Optimum Strategies for Creativity and Longevity which studied the relationship between the age of retirement and the average of death for retirees of Boeing Aerospace. The results are startling:

altext

As the retirement age increases, the average age of death decreases almost linearly. The average person who worked until age 65 lived for only 18 months after retirement! In contrast, the person retiring at 50 lived for another 36 years.

There is some dispute as to the validity of this data, but I haven’t found anything solid either way. The author does make some very bold conclusions, though:

…when you get older, you should plan your career path and financial matter so that you can retire comfortably at the age of 55 or earlier to enjoy your long, happy and leisure retirement life into your golden age of 80s and beyond. In retirement, you can still enjoy some fun work of great interest to you and of great values to the society and the community, but at a part-time leisure pace on your own term.

…On the other hand, if you are not able to get out of the pressure-cooker or the high-speed battleground at the age of 55 and ?have? to keep on working very hard until the age of 65 or older before your retirement, then you probably will die within 18 months of retirement.

However, a later study published in the British Medical Journal in 2005 refutes these findings. By studying the retirees of Shell Oil company, they found that those who stop working at 55 have nearly double the death rate of those who continue to work on until they reach 65.

Retiring early at 55 or 60 was not associated with better survival than retiring at 65 in a cohort of past employees of the petrochemical industry. Mortality was higher in employees who retired at 55 than in those who continued working.

Conclusions?
So on one hand we have “retire at 65 = dead within 2 years” and on the other we have “retire at 65 = twice the survival rate”. To me, these conflicting studies simply show that trying to compare retirement age and mortality is, well… pointless? Does one necessarily have anything to do with the other? How many people retired early because of health reasons? Or because they were offered a special severance package? How many endured harsh working conditions, like being placed on an offshore oil rig vs. an air-conditioned office?

Maybe what is most important is our own individual personalities. For some people their work provides them with purpose, social interaction, and maybe even regular physical exercise. Not working might actually be bad for their health. Personally, I can see myself working to maintain my own investments and businesses past 55, but I really can’t see myself “enjoying” taking orders from someone else for that long.

Comments

  1. You are right, that it’s hard to really make a decision based on the info.
    On one hand, working until you are 65 might keep your mind active and prevent disease. On the other hand, retiring at 55 gives you 10 years less work stress which could make you live longer.

    So here’s what you do: retire at age 55 and don’t turn into a grumpy old man who watches CNN for 8 hours a day. Instead retire at 55, grab some crossword puzzles and get a Ph D!

  2. What we should look at is family history. All of my grandparents lived to at least 84 and none of them worked particularly easy jobs. Barring any major diseases I should expect to live a similar amount of time if I take care of myself.

    Another factor could be stress of the job. If you are in a high stress position retiring early may be a great idea. Where as low stress jobs that you really enjoy it may benefit you to stay longer.

  3. As the say, correlation does not imply causation. Consider that people with better health care can expect to live longer. People with copious amounts of money have a better chance of having good health care and of retiring early (i.e. wealth can cause both). It wasn’t the retiring early that led to a long life, it was the money.

    One might be led to believe they should work all the harder when young to have the resources to do just that, even resorting to glib sayings like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” to justify the sacrifices.

    That is of course the dumbest saying ever. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you leaves your body broken for the rest of your miserable life. That’s no reason not to work hard; just work hard with balance.

  4. Yeah I’m with Dan on this. While I think there’s good sense that retiring early might be better for someone there are so many factors here that it’s not clear cut.

    I mean it really needs to be broken down quite a bit. Gender? Do women retire earlier than men? We all know women live longer. When did the people retire? If the the people retiring at 60 were in the 40′s, it should be no surprise that people retiring in th 70s at the age of 50 with better healthcare are living longer. Too many unasnwered questions.

    Either way retiring early is a good call even if you don’t live longer if it means you can dedicate your time to other things.

  5. I think you are missing the clear data demonstrating that working for Boeing is much worse than working for Shell.

  6. I work for Boeing and I have to disagree. In my experience working with ridiculously old people here, they actually seem happier than someone who is retiring at 55.

    After the age of 55, after working for a company for 30+ years, you really just don’t care… Boeing can’t fire you, so all they care about is doubling their 401(k), maxing out pension and retiring at 65 absurdly rich.

  7. There are any number of contradictory hypotheses here, such as:

    1. Those who retire early due to poor health obviously die sooner.
    2. Those who retire early with huge savings can better pay for health care.
    3. Those who retire early to start another career don’t actually retire.
    4. Those who retire late keep active and avoid couch potatoitis.
    5. Those who retire late are shocked by the change of pace and can’t adapt, so they have more stress in retirement.
    6. Those who retire late with little savings have a sense of need that keeps them focused on survival.

    The end result is this kind of question is on the edge of what can be addressed scientifically. Just as with most other health/life/social studies there are way too many variables for clean research.

  8. This probably not relate to retiring. But, having lots of kids might also help you live longer.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/hsn/20.....sliveto100

    Who would have thought of that. :)

  9. I know someone like my dad will be miserable if he had retire before the age of 60. He loves his job and retirement will likely only hasten his lifespan….many people enjoy their jobs and see it as their purpose in life sometimes. I think the key is to transition into a less strenuous occupation when you near old age. Blogging is one!
    -Raymond

  10. Correlation is not causation. Also, this data set is much too specific to draw any broad conclusions from.

    All you can say is that those Boeing employees who retired later had shorter life spans. Which isn’t very useful.

  11. People with more money tend to live longer and people with more money can retire earlier…. hmmm can you say lurking variable?

    But why beat a dead horse here?

    George Burns said the he lived for so long b/c he always had something to wake up for. If you’re going to wake up day after day with no purpose, it doesn’t matter if you retired at 55, 65 or 85, you’re probably not long for this world.

    I asked a lawyer buddy of mine about retiring lawyers and he said that they usually don’t. He said it wasn’t a lifestyle thing, after living the lawyer lifestyle for 30-40 years they just couldn’t imagine anything else.

    Bad questions get bad answers, right? Retirement age is a “symptom” of multiple other lifestyle decisions. Studying the relationship between the symptom and longevity seems pretty foolish to me. It’s like comparing longevity with the number of cavities, sure you’ll get some type of correlation but b/c you asked a pretty foolish question your answer is likely to be of the same caliber.

  12. RothNovice says:

    if ur a professor all ur life…thats like a retirement by itself.

  13. Joseph Sangl says:

    I am NEVER retiring. I like what I am doing too much!

    I might slow down at it at some point, but I really love what I get to do!

    I think job satisfaction matters a lot!

  14. What if poor health was a contributing factor to retirement? Can’t say I would be working 18-20 hours a day if I was on the decline and if I retire then pass away was it work-related or just my own health issues.

    Lifestyle and family history play to much into this equation to support any correlation to the simple age of retirement vs. mortality, I’m sure we have an actuary out there that would know how complex an equation this might turn out to be if one tried to establish such a simple relationship.

  15. Like many other posters, I really think that money is a big factor in living longer. It may be that Boeing early retirees were well set, as are Shell late retirees.

    I often wonder if getting up early every day to go to work is good or bad, long term, for someones health. I’ve often heard that the more you sleep, the less wrinkled you get. And in general, sleep definitely has great healing properties. Following your own Circadian rhythm would seem to be the healthiest in general (to me). However, there is a great benefit to having a purpose in life — so I would say the two may counter each other in terms of ones’ longevity. Of course, I have no basis for these conclusions — just armchair philosophy!

    But the money factor, in my observation, usually causes people to make more comfortable decisions. And the people who run out of money at retirement definitely face much harder times. And harder times could definitely translate into a shorter life span.

  16. Anyone else bothered by the fact that the chart shows people retiring at 65 live an average of 2 years more?

  17. JB @ GetRichOrDieTrying says:

    If we’re look at this from statistical ponit of view, then this sample is not any good. We need to get a sample of people from all walks of life and then look at the results. It’s anybody’s guess as to why these results could be skewed… but chances are that they are for one reason or another.

  18. those guys at boeing are notorious tinkerers. whereas i don’t know about that other company. give a boeing guy a blowtorch and 30 years and he won’t ask twice.

  19. I think the time of retirement depends on the situation and personal needs. Tired-retired! When you retire, you can pay more attention to yourself and your children, have some hobbies and so forth.

  20. Steve Austin says:

    I retired at age 36, and will live another 67 years past that age.

  21. Keven Jackson says:

    There is a better study which arrives at the opposite conclusion:

    http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs.....s/wp93.pdf

    However, working at Boeing may be unusually stressful and all those
    steroids ciruculating in your body could do you in.

  22. You work until you have enough loaves of bread and then you retire. If you can afford to retire at 50 then you should. Work is enslavement in exchange for money. We all need money; however at some point in time we do not need more of it. You reach a point of diminishing return with money. Your freedom becomes more valuable than more money. Continuing to work is like a prisoner who would rather stay in prison than face the freedom to choose how to live his/her life. Personally, I will retire at 50 and live off the loaves I’ve stowed away.

  23. Mike Gual: Personally, I will retire at 50 and live off the loaves I’ve stowed away.

    And then what would you do when the loaves ran out? Do loaves not eventually spoil?

    Do you think that your loaves are so valuable that the work you do from 20 to 50 can justify your leisurely existence from 51 to 100?

    And what would you do but eat bread each day? Do you plan to retire and then make no more loaves or anything of value?

    30 years of slavery followed by 50 years of viral existence does not inspire me as a lifestyle that adds value to the human existence. To bake bread is to build a better world. And though it’s fair to save loaves in advance, 50 years without baking seems like a miserable way to live.

  24. Elizabeth N says:

    My husband and I are saving every penny we can. We want the freedom to retire at 50 or we may choose to work into our 70′s. We both love our jobs and they are not stressful and very secure. However, we both wish to have that option of retiring early.

    I think this is the best solution. Prepare, but don’t decide decades earlier when you want to retire. We don’t know how we are going to feel 20 30 or 40 years from now or our circustances my force us into early retirement.

  25. Nanette Macaltao says:

    I dont want to retire. I just wish to have more available time to do things I love most so I can enjoy life.

  26. The statistics are misleading. Keep in mind of the following:

    Women live 5~10 years longer than men.
    The average retirement age for women is 3.8~5 years earlier than men.

    The statistics will be valid only it is gender separated.

Speak Your Mind

*