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Does Early Retirement Make You Live Longer? (Updated)

Written by Nickel - 28 Comments

Does Early Retirement Make You Live Longer?

Over the weekend, I ran across a fascinating study that suggests that retiring early can significantly increase your lifespan. This work was based on an analysis of longevity data from former Boeing Aerospace, and it concluded that “for every year one works beyond age 55, one loses 2 years of life span on average.”

Here are the relevant data:

Retirement Age Age at Death
49.9 86.0
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 80.0
59.2 78.5
60.1 74.5
61.0 74.5
62.1 71.8
63.1 69.3
64.1 67.9
65.2 66.8

(Source: “Actuarial study of life span vs. retirement age” by Ephrem Cheng)

As you can see, these data appear to indicate a continuous decrease in lifespan the longer one works. Perhaps the scariest bit of data here is that those that work through the traditional retirement age of 65 only cash their retirement checks for an average of 17 months. 17 months! Is that what you have in mind when you think about your future? That your “retirement years” will be reduced to little more than a “retirement year”?

Unfortunately, the study didn’t include an analysis of why someone that works longer might die sooner. Of course, you also can’t easily extrapolate from one workplace to another, and we’re running the risk of confusing correlation with causation. Nonetheless, it’s fun to speculate…

Given that many jobs are filled with stress and frustration, it’s not hard to imagine that their might be some health problems associated with working – e.g., heart disease, hypertension, etc. On top of that, a busy work life leaves less time for exercise, eating right, and so forth, which only compounds the problem. I guess the silver lining is that you won’t need as much money for retirement. ;-)

What do you think? Is working longer a grave health risk? Or do you think there’s another explanation for these data? Please weigh in with your thoughts.

Update: The veracity of this study has been called into question, with Boeing stating that there is no such trend in the data, and that “Boeing retirees live longer than the national average, regardless of age at retirement.”

Source: Retiring Early via extremejacob

Published on June 15th, 2011
Modified on June 23rd, 2011 - 28 Comments
Filed under: Retirement, Working

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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28 Responses to “Does Early Retirement Make You Live Longer? (Updated)”

  1. 1
    Dan Says:

    Three items:

    1) You are confusing correlation with causation; especially since there may be crucial factors which might have a causal influence. For example, employee income may be a valid explanation for the relationship between retirement age and mortality. Employees with higher wages may have had better access to healthcare (i.e., ability to pay)in addition to being able to retire earlier (i.e., more assets at a younger age) and thus have been able to live longer in retirement. Consequently, the conclusion that retirement age and mortality are CAUSALLY linked cannot be regarded as a sound position until other such possible common causes have been ruled out first (which, incidentally, may have indeed been done as part of the study, but this would have to be made explicit for the statement to be valid).

    2) You mentioned this in the post, but the findings from this study of an aerospace company are not generalizable to all Americans since there may be specific workplace/industry variables that are unique to Boeing such as workplace environment/exposure or the breakdown between the percentage of blue vs. white collar employees in the study.

    3) This study is from the 80’s. Healthcare has advanced significantly since then.

    Although actuarial studies like this provide interesting data, it is difficult to make causal statements based on data that can be so easily confounded.

  2. 2
    No Debt MBA Says:

    Very cool data. I imagine there are a number of confounding factors, in my quick skim of the paper it doesn’t look like they controlled for anything. Income would be one factor I’d like to control for since it’s usually correlated with better health and would be a major contributor to the ability to retire early. That being said, I bet there’s some causality here too.

  3. 3
    Lauren Says:

    I think a more likely explanation is that people who retire early are people who have had lots of money for much of their lives. Money leads to things like better health care, time to exercise, and the ability to buy & prepare healthier food — all things that would lead to a longer life.

    The stress idea probably does have a role too — if you have enough money to retire at 50, you probably haven’t had to stress a lot about money.

  4. 4
    ckstevenson Says:

    I think what this table really shows is those that are ABLE to retire earlier are more likely to have the wealth and means necessary for a longer lifespan.

    If you HAVE to work till your 65 (or later) then most likely you are in a financial situation where you can’t afford the best medical service etc. Related, you’re probably not as likely to be eating high quality food etc.

    Hard to say as we’re working off of correlation and not causation.

  5. 5
    mjd Says:

    I agree with the above comment. There aren’t enough controls in this to make it a valuable study. I wouldn’t make any decisions based off of this limited information.

  6. 6
    jim Says:

    The study doesn’t give much information at all abut the data or methodology. I wouldn’t read much into this. I doubt the data holds true across the general population or it would be extremely obvious. Virtually nobody I know retires early and virtually everyone I know lives more than a couple years past retirement. Think of all the people you know who retired and think of how long they’ve lived.
    The conclusion doesn’t really hold up to simple observation.

  7. 7
    David Says:

    Wow, really? My mom retired at 68. Going by that graph, she should’ve have died when she was *younger* than 68. This is not an academic paper by any stretch of the imagination.

  8. 8
    Ginger Says:

    No, not a academic paper but an interesting correlation. Would be interested in seeing this done over a majority of jobs.

  9. 9
    Tara@riceandbeanslife Says:

    Interesting study. I think people who have jobs that reflect their passions in life are less likely to meet these criteria above. It might, however, be a good impetus for people to simplify life and live below their means so that retirement isn’t so unreachable for so many (though I know there are a plenty of reasons people have to work past “retirement age” and it’s not alway because of lack of planning). I’m wondering-did this study include only Boeing Aerospace employees or was this a blind study?

  10. 10
    Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter Says:

    Very interesting. I think that people would live longer if they retire early because they would be less stressed. People underestimate the toll work stress can have on one’s health as a whole. The quicker you exit that environment the more time you give your body and mind a chance to live stress free.

  11. 11
    Devin Says:

    I really have to question this study. Other studies recently say just the opposite.

  12. 12
    Annie Says:

    This is so true and my dad was living proof of that fact. He retired early with heart issues and I think that kept him going until 83. Lack of job stress, commuting etc… leads to happiness and longer life.

  13. 13
    Heather Says:

    Perhaps the former Boeing Aerospace ought to have looked at its working conditions…

    That said, the first school I worked in had a few people retire well beyond teaching retirement age and die within a year. All were healthy to the bet of their knowledge when they retired. Perhaps I’ve lengthened my life span just by not working there any more!

    I think working longer has different effects on different people, depending on who you are, where you work, why you work longer, and what you do after you stop working.

  14. 14
    Jen @ Master the Art of Saving Says:

    To me, the study does seem a bit sketchy. I also think that it can make a good point. Recently, research has pointed out that people who sit for a large portion of their day, even those who live healthy lifestyle are at higher risk for heart problems. So maybe this is for those people with desk jobs and the high-labor jobs.

    That would totally suck to finally retire and die within a few years after busing your @ss to save for a long retirement. I think your post is a good reminder that while it’s important to save for retirement, it’s also enjoy our lives—while we have them.

  15. 15
    Financial Samurai Says:

    Do you know what the sample set size is? Sounds scary the results!

    I definitely don’t plan to work 12 hours a day after the age of 45, that’s for sure. 2-5 hours a day is just right imo.

  16. 16
    Adam Says:

    It\\\’s simple. Lower stress = longer life.

  17. 17
    Dale Says:

    Amazing data, but it’s just urban legend. Someone misinterpreted Boeing Aerospace’s actual numbers. Boeing has tried to set the record straight, but a good story is more popular than the reality: life expectancies of their workers are statistically indistinguishable whether they retire early or late.

  18. 18
    Bella Says:

    Guess what? My stepfather is 88 and still works…he is healthy and happy and never wants to retire…go figure?

  19. 19
    jim Says:

    Dale is right. This study is not factual. I did a quick search and found a statement from Boeing directly refuting it as a myth:

    http://www.boeing.com/companyo...../Rumor.pdf

  20. 20
    jim Says:

    “We examine data regularly for trends. Our data shows that life expectancy of a Boeing retiree does not depend on the age at retirement.”
    “The idea that working longer will shorten a Boeing employee’s life expectancy simply isn’t true,” said Julie Curtis, an actuary at Boeing. I’ve been looking at the data since 1983, and the length of a retiree’s life is unrelated to the age at his or her retirement. Our retirees tend to live a long time no matter how old they are when they retire. If the charts were accurate, we wouldn’t have the large number of retirees that we do (nearly 500,000) and the large amount of pension payments (more than $2 billion a year).”

  21. 21
    Commercial Capital Training Says:

    This is an interesting study/article, and even more so the response from Boeing (thanks for the link Jim). It’s easy to make assumptions about lifestyle and lifespan but there are obviously hundreds of variables unique to each person.

  22. 22
    Amber Says:

    Nickel, I was misled by your posting of this table. I even told someone about it. Now I come to see it is an urban myth and I feel duped and stupid for putting any credence in it and spreading the myth. A responsible blog would apologize and post a retraction, as Get Rich Slowly did (which is the only reason I know it was false info). I now have to go hang my head to the person I misled.

  23. 23
    Mike Says:

    Just the opposite. People who work longer live longer, and are healthier and happier.

  24. 24
    Morgan Allen Says:

    Hi I retired @ 66 and I’m 68 Johnny Carson retired @ 55 and lived to be 72 ! Morgan

  25. 25
    Joseph Says:

    Wrong. Johnny Carson retired at 66 and lived to be 79.

  26. 26
    Jim Says:

    BS study. A healthy person who makes it to 65 has 18 years of life expectancy left. To reduce that to under 2 years would be 4-5 standard deviations which would be statically impossible. In fact if your job was to take a healthy 65 year old and kill him off in 1.8 years using only lifestyle and environmentals – you would be very hard pressed to do it – even if you had him eating cheeseburgers, shooting up heroin and had him listening to a nagging wife day and night.

    What I find most interesting is how gullible readers and posters here are. It shows a pretty shocking lack of critical thinking skills – let alone common sense to buy into this study. But then a lot of people bought into the housing bubble because real estate never goes down – so that’s the society we live in.

  27. 27
    Travel News Says:

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  28. 28
    Kevin Roane Says:

    People,

    This was just one study, and the data was put in question. Yes, 18 months for a healthy person doesn’t make any sense. They certainly live longer, but you have the people that also die shortly after retirement, that offset this.
    Before you call this report completely false, please research Lockheed Martin, AT&T, Lucent Tech, Bell Labs, Sandie, Ametek and Shell Oil. All companies that have studied life expectancy after retirement.

    Guess what, almost each study points to an average life expectancy of about 3 to 4 years, if you retire at 66 years old. Base your replies on facts, not just that one report had old or misleading data in it.

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