Early Retirement = Early Death?

There are conflicting research results on whether early retirement is a cause for early deaths.

1. On one hand, there are researches which show that one additional year of early retirement causes an increase in the risk of premature death of 2.4 percentage points or 1.8 months in terms of years of life lost.

A study by Shell, which followed their workers for 26 years, suggested that survival for those who retire at 65 are greater. “ Survival rates remained significantly greater for those who retired at age 65 compared with those who retired at age 55,” the researchers wrote. Many people underestimate the importance of their job when they give it up.

2. On the other hand, Dr. Sing Lin in his paper “Optimum Strategies for Creativity and Longevity” dated 2002 pointed to an opposite direction. One of his conclusions is that ” 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. By working very hard in the pressure cooker for 10 more years beyond the age of 55, you give up at least 20 years of your life span on average.”

See his paper  on link : http://faculty.kfupm.edu.sa/COE/gutub/English_Misc/Retire1.htm

From his actuarial study of the age at retirement vs life span done at Lockheed Martin and at Boeing, he came up with the following paired results of Age at Retirement /Average Age At Death:

49.9/86,   51.2 /85.3,   52.5 /84.6,   53.8 /83.9,    55.1 /83.2,   56.4 /82.5,   57.2 /81.4,   58.3 /80,    59.2 /78.5,   60.1 /76.8,   61 /74.5,   62.1 /71.8,   63.1 /69.3,   64.1 /67.9,   65.2 /66.8

For instance, if you retire at age 49.9, his results show that you may live to 86, whereas, if you retire at age 65.2, you may only have  1.6 years to live and die at 66.8. In Boeing’s numbers, employees retiring at 65 typically received their pension checks for only 18 months (at Lockheed, 17 months).

So, what should one believe?

The Boeing / Lockheed Martin studies did not indicate how big the population looked at and whether they were statistically significant for other types of employment where there are lower work stresses. Whereas, the Shell study may have been influenced by the relatively poor state of health of their staff who (were forced to ) retire early because of their poor health.

As reported in a Telegraph article, “Those forced into early retirement generally have poorer mental health than those who take routine retirement, who in turn have poorer mental health than those who have taken voluntary early retirement” and “Early retirement is generally good for people’s health and well being unless it has been forced on them.”

We tend to build our lives around our work,” an expert Milner said. “When we are no longer working, we can lapse into lack of activity, and that can contribute to bad health.”

So, let’s look at the plus and minus sides of retirement:

On retirement– there is a reduction of job related stress that leads to increased blood pressure and other bad habits that come with many jobs. However, for some, there may be an increase of stress due to worries about not having enough money for the retirement or the lack of identity and purpose of life.

Pre-retirement –  complaining about one’s career and the management might have cost one a decade of life, not to mention perhaps several decades of living. However, for some people, work gives them a sense of purpose and for the rare few, the only purpose in life.

The crucial question is whether you are able to structure your retirement life such that there are more positive benefits than negative impacts.

To be healthy, retirement must be active“, Milner said. In his experience, he said, “retired people who plunged into new activities enjoyed their lives more, and were thus healthier. One study showed “that older adults who volunteer to help others can reduce their risk of dying prematurely by 60 percent,” he said.

So, while generally a reduction in work related stress is conducive to longer living, in our retirement we must not let ourselves  lapse into lack of activity but to remain physically, mentally and socially active. For those who regard work as the only purpose in life and have no activities outside work,  continue working may be better off as they have already achieved their purpose.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; We grow old because we stop playing” – George Bernard Shaw