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.”


Airman Spry Shark

What are the effects on Keynesian blue-collar workers?


It's been three days, and I'm only the fourth person to give comment this a thumbs up? What's wrong with my fellow Freakonomics fans?

Andreas Moser

I always thought it worthwhile to retire early. So, I am leading a pensioner's life at 36: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/life-of-a-pensioner/
I may die younger, but at least I won't have wasted the prime of my life by working.


work is not a waste- it's what makes us human- that's why the early retirees turn to drugs- depression from being disconnected from working


What is so surprising? Women are occupied with housework and men laze about.


I doubt that the improved longevity in women is due to housework. However, I will contend that majority of men define themselves by their jobs whereas majority of women do not. Thus loss of a job for whatever reason is more likely to affect men adversely.

Eric M. Jones.

A friend tells me that the average number of monthly retirement payments for Kodak, Rochester workers (in decades previous) was 24.


I plan on rockin' through my Medicare years. And I hope I owe you money.

When I was 30 I met a guy (my age) who said he could reliably depend on getting $500/month for the rest of his life. So he moved to Bangkok. Smartest man I ever met.


I retired for the second and final time a few months before I turned fifty. My health is fine now a few months before I turn sixty-five and is , if anything, improving. My theory is that it is not working or not working that affects lifespan, it is what you are doing. I got to where I hated my job and staying at it probably would have eventually shortened the lifespans of some other people. Not wanting to be the guy that is described in the morning paper as 'he was a quiet man and kept to himself' I took the easier and safer path. Sure, I miss the money, but I manage to keep busy, get my exercise, keep my mind active, and that is what seems to count.


I don't know about Austria, but here in the USA I can imagine several reasons for these results. In many of the households of my friends, the husband invested almost his whole life in his work; when the job was over, he had no hobbies, few non-work friendships, and 'nothing to do with his time.' Most of these husbands spent several rocky years trying to use golf, Habitat for Humanity, or taking classes as a substitute for working, during which time both drinking and smoking were up substantially.

Meanwhile, the wives I know were people whose careers had been more varied, working in different industries as well as taking time away from work to have children. They had strong connections in their home communities as well as long-distance friendships left over from high school, college, previous employment and previous places the couple had lived. After retirement they picked up the threads of volunteer work, hobbies, and school without much difficulty. None of the women I knew developed problems with alcohol.

Is there something here about the way men are often socialized to put all their energy into work?



Does psychological reason also affect CHOOSING to retire other than the factor of health condition? Those who tend to retire earlier except for the reason of poor health condition may have certain pattern of their life style. Just out of curiosity.


What about reverse causality? They might retire early because they are frail and then die early. I'll look at the paper eventually, but this would be the key question I'd hope they address.



With the retirement age being increased by all and sundry I wonder if we are going to see a corresponding rise in disability claims. With the rise in obesity and associated conditions the projected ability work to a more advanced age may turn out to be a mirage.


"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?



"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.


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%.

Erik Dallas

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.