👴 Is Early Retirement Killing Us?

Dear Rich Lifer,

There’s a great line in a Quentin Tarantino movie where a character named Budd says,

“They say the number one killer of old people is retirement. People got ’em a job to do, they tend to live a little longer so they can do it.”

It’s a great line because there’s an ounce of truth to it. In 2018, two economics professors from Cornell University and the University of Melbourne in Australia published a paper that found a surge of men dying shortly after age 62.

The paper examined mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics’ Multiple Cause of Death that covers the entire U.S. population and includes exact dates of birth and death.

The research revealed a two-percent increase in male mortality immediately after age 62. According to the paper, the change in female mortality was smaller and “imprecisely estimated.” In other words, the data was inconclusive.

Although two percent doesn’t sound like much, it’s still statistically significant and warrants further research.

The question remains though, why the increase in death among men at age 62?

When one of the study’s authors was interviewed, an interesting hypothesis was brought up. The increase in the number of deaths at age 62 only happened when it was possible to claim Social Security at age 62.

That is, the significant increase in male deaths at age 62 begins to show up in historical records at the same time Americans were allowed to claim Social Security benefits at this earlier age.

While correlation does not equal causation, the study authors believe there could be a strong link here.

And while there’s no law saying you have to stop working once you start claiming Social Security benefits at age 62, approximately one third of people who claim benefits at age 62, do in fact stop working.

The Loss of High-Paying Manufacturing Jobs in America

Another interesting observation is the loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs over the past forty years. Some 7 million jobs have been lost since 1979, when manufacturing employment peaked, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There’s no coincidence that this steep drop-off in manufacturing jobs has led to millions of lost pensions and quality health care for blue-collared workers.

One reason why many men take Social Security at age 62 is due to difficulty finding work or illness. Early retirement is not a choice, it’s a necessity. (Even more so during a pandemic, when unemployment is at a high.)

The researchers also pointed out that the increase in mortality rate could be attributed to unhealthy habits men pick up when they retire. Watching more TV, becoming more sedentary, drinking and smoking more. The same habits are less pronounced in women, which could explain why we don’t see the same increase in mortality rate among women age 62.

What Can You Do If You’re A 62-Year Old Man?

The evidence is pretty clear that men forced into early retirement due to unemployment or illness have a target on their back.

The good news is you shouldn’t let this stop you from enjoying a fulfilling retirement, whether planned or not. The secret to avoiding an early grave is a lot simpler than you think.

First, ask yourself why do working men live longer? Money and healthcare play a role, but just as important is a sense of purpose that their careers provide them.

How to Get Back Purpose in Retirement

This might sound trite but finding your second act in life can be a life saver.

We spend a huge chunk of our lives dedicated to our careers, raising children — often both. When you finally retire and let these things go, you can relax and enjoy stress-free living.

But what a lot of retirees find is they end up wasting their golden years. They get trapped in a vicious cycle of doing the same things day-in and day-out. Going for walks, golfing, watching TV, reading the news…repeat.

Retirement is the perfect time to immerse yourself in a passion or pursuit that is truly meaningful to you. Of course you can indulge in leisurely activities, too, but it might be beneficial to seek a balance between the two.

You’ve worked your whole life to get to this point. Look at retirement as a free pass to pursue career paths you deemed unrealistic before.

Why not try acting or create art and try to sell it?

There are all kinds of second acts you can try. Some ideas other retirees have found meaningful include:

  • Joining the Peace Corps (members are welcome into their 60s and 70s)
  • Becoming a substitute teacher and passing on your real-world experience
  • Volunteering at a homeless shelter, food bank, non-profit, church, or hospital
  • Writing a book and self-publishing it on Amazon Kindle
  • Reading to children at schools once or twice a week
  • Opening a business if you can afford it

There’s a great website called Encore.org dedicated to helping baby boomers find second careers. Think about what you wanted to do before you chose the career you dedicated your life to and try it.

It’s never too late to find meaning and purpose in your life.

To a richer life,

The Rich Life Roadmap Team

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