Retirement Can Be Fatal

We have done the math.

Some researchers wanted to know if early retirement helped prolong life. So, they studied thousands of retirees from a petrochemical company, comparing mortality rates between those who retired at 55 with those who retired at 65. They thought retiring early would reduce various kinds of stress, improve a person’s life and increase life expectancy.

It turned out that the researchers guessed backwards. After turning 65, the early retirees (those retiring at 55) died significantly sooner, compared to those who retired at 65!

[BMJ. 2005 Oct 29; 331(7523): 995.  Age at retirement and long term survival of an industrial population: prospective cohort study   Shan P Tsai, manager, epidemiology, Judy K Wendt, senior epidemiologist, Robin P Donnelly, director, health services, Geert de Jong, senior health adviser, and Farah S Ahmed, epidemiology research associate.]

This is not a quirky result from an isolated study. It’s been corroborated. Other research demonstrates that delaying retirement by just one year was associated with an 11% lower risk of death.

Even unhealthy retirees had lower mortality risk when retiring later.

[Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Association of retirement age with mortality: a population-based longitudinal study among older adults in the USA. Chenkai Wu, et al.]

Death is a rather crude measure. Let’s look at stuff that’s a little less dramatic …

Another research group looked at mobility, illness and mental health.

Well, over an average post-retirement period of six years, retirement leads to a 5-16 percent increase in difficulties associated with mobility and daily activities, a 5-6 percent increase in illness and 6-9 percent decline in mental health.

What would 10, 20, 30 years post-retirement look like!

They concluded: Retiring at a later age may lessen or postpone poor health outcomes for older adults, raise well-being, and reduce the utilization of health care services, particularly acute care.

[The Effects of Retirement on Physical and Mental Health Outcomes. NBER Working Paper No. 12123. Issued in March 2006, Revised in January 2008. NBER Program(s):Program on the Economics of Aging, Health Economics Program. Dhaval Dave, et al.]

Shouldn’t early retirement improve health and longevity? Less stress, more time to relax and re-build, freedom to pursue some of the joys of life, more time to care for your health – more sleep?!

Apparently not.

Retirement – at least the way we have become accustomed to it – is downright dangerous; especially for men. And, while there are a lot of different factors at play, once you think about it, it starts to make a whole lot of sense.

Retiring involves a kind of culture shock – only worse. People lose the purpose that’s been tied up in career for virtually all of their adult life. And there can be little purpose and engagement in some of the activities (or lack thereof) engaged in after the job ends. Retirees lose their tribe of professional associates. In fact, they may even be shunned as irrelevant by former workers. At home, they are underfoot; both simmering and new domestic frictions boil up, leading to separation and divorce.

It’s not uncommon for retirees to move away, further isolating them from familiar social groups and even family. There is less money, often not enough to maintain life-style. Poverty may loom. Mental and physical inactivity, depression and anxiety lead to decline and, tragically, a sad and premature death.

That’s a pretty nasty way to end it all. Frankly, it’s against my inclination to even write about such a dark place. However, it is critically important that we recognize such a problem. Sticking our head in the sand will have catastrophic personal and societal outcomes.

How can a person stay relevant, active, contributing and achieving after their traditional work-a-day life ends, so they don’t wither away and die?

Well, you don’t have to punch a clock for the rest of your life, but don’t disengage either!

‘NOT Retirement’ supports your engagement after leaving work-a-day life.

The best is yet to come!

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