Early Retirement: Bad For Your Health?

Retirement ages have been trending up, as governments struggle to deal with escalating financial burdens. That might be sad news for would-be retirees — but maybe they’ll change their mind if they look at this new research from Andreas Kuhn, Jean-Philippe Wuellrich, and Josef Zweimüller. They examine the effects of early retirement on a sample of Austrian blue-collar workers:

We find that a reduction in the retirement age causes a significant increase in the risk of premature death – defined as death before age 67 – for males but not for females. The effect for males is not only statistically significant but also quantitatively important. According to our estimates, one additional year of early retirement causes an increase in the risk of premature death of 2.4 percentage points (a relative increase of about 13.4%; or 1.8 months in terms of years of life lost). In line with expectations, we find that IV estimates are considerably smaller than the simple OLS estimates, both for men and for women. This is consistent with negative health selection into retirement and underlines the importance of a proper identification strategy when estimating the causal impact of early retirement on mortality. Our results also indicate that the causal effect of early retirement on mortality for females is zero, suggesting that the negative association between retirement age and mortality in the raw data is entirely due to negative health selection. There are several reasons why male but not female blue-collar workers suffer from higher mortality (eg women may be more health-conscious and adopt less unhealthy behaviours than men; they may be more active after permanently exiting the labour market due to their higher involvement in household activities).

The authors trace the effect to negative behavioral changes associated with early retirement and conclude that “32.4% of the causal retirement effect can be directly attributed to smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.”


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  1. crquack says:

    “The guy who’s still pretty spry at 97 was (and maybe still is) a mining geologist, which involves a lot of climbing around in mines, and hiking around the mountains to get to where they might be. So that’s one anecdote that pricks a hole in your desk job theory.”

    There will always be exceptions to any rule. Somebody living till 97 is a pretty good exception in itself.

    “As for being able to scale one’s work, it’s true that it’s not always possible, but it should be. We keep hearing about the problems of a smaller work force having to support a large number of longer-lived retirees, when the obvious solution is to encourage the retirees to work part time. I’ve worked more than a few 80-100 hour weeks in my time, but now find that 30 hours or so suits me better, and leaves me time for the physical activity that I don’t get at a desk job.”

    Yes, in theory many things *should* happen. However, reality is sadly different for a majority. How many part-time 30-hour week desk jobs are there?

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    • James says:

      “How many part-time 30-hour week desk jobs are there?”

      How many could there be, if we made those part time jobs more acceptable, and perhaps even encouraged them? Under the current system, employers have a positive disincentive for providing part-time jobs, since the cost of benefits is fixed.

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  2. T.C. says:

    I have a buddy who is 67, still works, is a serious drinker (of beer mostly) and was told by his doctor the other day that his cholesterol levels have dropped 20%.

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  3. Erik Dallas says:

    Having something to do and to live for is very important in retirement. One way to reduce mortality is to become responsible for the care of a “dependent”, be this a grandchild, a great-grandchild, another relative, or even a pet. Having a reason to get up in the morning and become active (exercise) is important.

    The article being discussed was published by some academics from the University of Zurich, and most of Europe has a socialized retirement system that pays a respectable middle class pension annuity. However, in the US where Social Security is really just a welfare benefit, where company provided traditional final average pay pension plans are no longer prevalent, and where employee contributions to their 401(k) 403(b) IRA or Roth are usually deficient in providing respectable retirement income, the risk most retiring workers will face is not premature death but the longevity risk or running out of retirement funds. In the US middle class retirees need to save between 10 and 20 times their salary if they are going to “fund” their own retirement. However, most surveys indicate that the average account balances of 60+ year olds are around $100,000 or in most cases less than two times earnings. This is not retirement planning, this is poverty and impecunious planning. We will be facing eminent and severe longevity risk. Please smoke and drink all you want, but when you have a heart attack or cancer please don’t go to the hospital and bankrupt Medicare.

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  4. Cliff Tuttle says:

    I do not know the source, but I have heard several times in the media that retired men watch seven hours of television per day. Going from an active life to a sedentary one has to have an effect on anyone. But, without any evidence, I suspect that an absence of a purpose is probably just as important. Loss of the status (and self-esteem) that accompanies success may play a role, too.

    On the other hand, U.S. Supreme Court Justices and others who don’t retire and work hard (mentally) live comparatively long lives. Lawyers who don’t retire (quite a few of them) often say that retirement age is about the time in life when business gets good. Don’t retire, live long and prosper.

    Cliff Tuttle
    Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk


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  5. Da Shark says:

    Stop all recruitment into the US Armed Forces. The worst most pitiful site on earth is an 18 year old person (male/female) entering a US Armed Forces Recruiting Station.

    So says Da Shark.

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  6. bob nob says:

    I retired at 49 and have been retired now for 11 years,so I guess i’d better get my affairs in order!

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  7. David Lentfer says:

    Dear Sir,

    Why did the Early Retirement article turned away from economics and more towards health issues? Is it because the creators of this show are getting older and are thinking more of their health than the health of our economy?

    David Lentfer
    Seward, NE

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