why do men retire early die early grave mortality study

Do those who retire early, die early?

There’s an interesting study that shows a link between retiring early, and DYING early.

Specifically, men who retire early die sooner than men who retire at the traditional age of 65 or older.

Putting the tinfoil hat on: it seems convenient that the Social Security Administration – the organization responsible for paying out retirement benefits – did this study. They would be incentivized to pay you out later. But there are other studies that support this finding. Tinfoil hat off.

Conspiracy theory aside—I’m a man who wants to retire early. Am I digging myself an early grave?

Luckily studies like this show only correlation, NOT causation between early retirement and death.

It’s all about why people retire and the factors leading to early retirement.

No one wants to be forced out of work

One reason people retire earlier is due to their health, which prevents them from working.

(These studies may contain healthy worker bias: people actively working are less likely to die because the general population they’re compared to include those who can’t work due to disease or disability.)

The inverse is also true; work impacts our health.

It’s not just that accident-prone jobs like trucking and roofing have increased risk of death—work is generally a place that causes stress, which is highly linked to mortality.

The book Dying for a Paycheck found that 120,000 excess deaths are caused by workplace practices every year:

“Work-family conflict and long work hours are as harmful to health as secondhand smoke, a known and regulated carcinogen.”

We don’t need a study to prove that high stress, toxic jobs could lead to earlier deaths. Leaving a bad job could be a healthy, life-extending choice. So long as you’ve saved enough money.

But what happens when people choose to retire early or take a break from work?

Work optionality is key

Many people I meet started pursuing financial independence because of their jobs. Nearly everyone I’ve met has had a bad boss or workplace complaint.

The more financially free I become, the less job stress I experience.
I’m less afraid of being fired, less attached to job drama.
Ironically, this makes me a more productive employee.

Most pursuing FIRE desire work optionality and choose to early, instead of being forced to retire.

All of this to say, autonomy is an important factor when thinking about early retirement and death. But just as important as autonomy is having purpose.

The role of purpose in retirement

There’s a myth that early retirement = being inactive.

What are you going to do all day, just bum around or travel all the time?

In contrast, the FI community is getting better about lifestyle design, with a focus on what you want freedom to do, not just freedom from what you’re avoiding.

Someone whose identity is tied to work and retires early is likely to experience worse outcomes than someone who has a fulfilling life outside of work.

  • A Harvard study found that people who felt they had purpose in life wer likely to live longer than those who did not
  • A JAMA Network study found that out of 7,000 adults over age 50, those who scored highest on a scale for “life purpose” were less likely to die.

The studies thus far have shown a relationship between early retirement and death…for MEN. This relationship has not been shown to be statistically significant for women.

Going out on a limb here—this may be related to women being able to maintain close relationships more than men. (See studies like this and this). Social connections also contribute to the longevity experienced in Blue Zones, areas of the world known to have people who live long, happy lives.

So yeah. Stay healthy physically, mentally, socially. Easy right? ;)

Going for FI doesn’t mean you’ll die (early)

If you have early retirement goals, then don’t worry about dying early. Here’s a summary of my takeaways:

  • Early retirees may die earlier not because of retirement, but due to health (so put health first)
  • Switching to a less stressful job – or taking a break from work – may extend your life if your job is stressful AF
  • Pursuing FIRE is a way to increase autonomy in your life, which counteracts the negative effects of forced retirement.
  • Purpose and community are important. Have something to retire TO, not just retire FROM

To bring all the discussions of retirement forward, I recommend doing a dream day exercise and watching my free money goals workshop.

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