Azara Blog: Retiring early allegedly not very good for longevity

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Date published: 2005/10/22

The BBC says:

Researchers have disproved the theory that people who take early retirement enjoy longer lives as a result.

In fact, those who stop working at 55 have nearly double the death rate of those who continue to work on until they reach 65, a study suggests.

The work, published in the British Medical Journal, involved over 3,500 employees of the petrochemical industry who retired at 55, 60, and 65.

Poorer health forcing some to retire early may be a factor, say the authors.

However, this would not entirely explain the differences they found, neither would factors such as sex and socioeconomic status.

Men were far more likely to die at a younger age than women, as were those on lower incomes compared to those with the highest incomes, but after controlling for this the researchers still found a big survival gap between the different retirement ages.

The Shell Health Services researchers excluded the first 10 years of survival for those retiring at 55, and the first five years for those retiring at 60, to make for a fair comparison with those who carried on working to 65.

The employees who retired at 55 had a significantly increased mortality compared with those who retired at 65.

In contrast, employees who retired at 60 had a similar survival rate to those who retired at 65.

Well take this study with a pinch of salt. They have done the honourable thing and tried to control against some obvious factors. But they have probably missed something else and it would definitely be confusing correlation and causation to imply (as the article does) that we would (on average) be better off if we did not retire at 55 (not that most people have that option). As an example of one particular thing that might be missing, the person who retires at 55 might not be unhealthy according to official definitions but could well be unhealthy (on average) relative to the population average. The only way to do this study properly (and it will never happen this way) is to take a random group of people and force a randomly chosen half to retire at 55 and the other half to retire at 65 and see what happens. (But also ask people if, say, they would rather retire at 55 and live to 68 or retire at 65 and live until 71 and see what the response is. Longevity is not everything.)

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