Why do retirees die soon after retirement? There is no evidence that retirement necessarily equates to death. People still talk about it happening, however. Adaptable individuals have found great satisfaction in exploring new avenues of interest after retirement.
However, some factors, including the age of retirement, underlying health issues, and gender, signal an earlier death after retirement. Let’s look at the research about if and why do retirees die soon after they retire.
Early Retirement Risks
Early retirement, before the age of 62, has been associated with higher mortality risk in some instances. A study of Shell Oil employees found that those who retired at 55 and lived to be 65 died 37 percent sooner than those that retire at 65. And in general, people who retire at 55 are 89 percent more likely to die within ten years than those that retire at 65.
Social Security has noticed this trend, as well. Men that retire at 62 have a 20 percent higher likelihood of death than the general population. However, retiring early for women causes no increase in mortality rates.
If early retirement was due to health issues, especially respiratory, circulatory, musculoskeletal, or digestive disorders, the mortality rate increases even more. Limited access to health care, both before and after retirement, also raises the incidence of mortality. When any of these factors are present, it’s no surprise that those health issues catch up with the person shortly after retirement. In most instances, continuing to work would not have extended the lifespan of the person.
Retiring at 65 Statistics
One study looked at groups who retired at 65 and found that lower-status workers were more likely to die within three years of retirement. Higher status workers lasted longer, averaging four to five years after retirement. Not surprisingly, a larger percentage of those who retire at 65 are college-educated than those who retire at 62. Generally, studies have found that the lower the income and educational level, the higher the retirees’ mortality rate. This difference can be attributed to leisure time activities after retirement and access to health care.
Those that found their identity through work will naturally find it harder to adapt after retirement. Individuals may feel lost, unsure of who they are or what they should be spending their time on. This feeling leads to inactivity, increasing alcohol consumption, and depression.
Retiring at 66+
Working longer seems to reduce the likelihood of early death. Healthy workers that continued to work until they were 66 had an 11 percent reduced mortality risk. Workers with health conditions that worked until they were 66 still had a 9 percent reduced mortality risk.
Possible Risk Factors
One reason for the reduced lifespan among retirees of any age may be the abrupt change in lifestyle that comes with retirement. Men and women approach retirement differently. It seems that gender certainly plays a part in life expectancy among retirees.
Male retirees tend to drink more, watch more TV, and are generally more sedentary than their still-working counterparts. They also have fewer social interactions and smoke more. All of these have a profound impact on health. Single and divorced men are more likely to die earlier than married men.
On the other hand, women tend to stay more active, continue to socialize regularly, and overall find retirement a satisfying life stage. The job a woman had before retiring may impact her risk of mortality more than anything else. One study found that retired women who had non-manual jobs had an increased risk of heart disease-related death, whether they retired early or not.
The previous studies do not imply that you will die soon after you retire. If you retire at 65, you have a 76 percent chance of living ten more years, a 38 percent chance of living 20 more years, and a 5 percent chance of living another 30 years. The life expectancy for men in the United States is 78.54 years. Women tend to live longer than men generally and have a life expectancy of 81.1 years. So, statistically, not everyone dies soon after retirement.
How To Prevent An Early Death After Retirement
Although you may not choose the age you retire, you can decide what to do with the time on your hands after retirement. For the best health after retirement, mentally and physically, you should:
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stay active
- Stop smoking
- Drink moderately or not at all
- Reduce stress
- Maintain social contacts
- Find meaningful tasks (travel, hobbies, volunteering)
Studies have shown that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and emotional wellbeing is good for you. Volunteering provides a sense of meaning, has been shown to reduce stress, and can help you maintain social contacts. Whether you volunteer in a nursing home, delivering meals on wheels, or working in a soup kitchen, the engagement gets you and improves your social life.
Because of the current restrictions in place in many areas, many nonprofit organizations are limiting their activities. If you find limited volunteer opportunities in your area, consider fostering a pet from the shelter, setting up a phone tree to check on other retirees and elderly in your area, or offering to tutor a child struggling with online learning.
Consider contacting one of the following organizations:
- VolunteerMatch has listings in their virtual volunteer program, including health and medicine, community building, and education. You can help others from home or online worldwide.
- Idealist has local and virtual volunteer listings that you can search by skill type.
- AmeriCorps Seniors are volunteer positions available to those over 55. You can become a foster grandparent, senior companion or use your skills to help others.
- If you are more of an outdoorsy person, Volunteer has hundreds of volunteer positions at national parks throughout the country.
- The U.S. Peace Corps has a 50 Plus division. Volunteers are needed both here and abroad.
- The American Red Cross is looking for volunteers. If you can sew, they urgently need face coverings for military personnel.
Retiring doesn’t have to be a death sentence. There are hundreds of ways that you can create a second life after your working life is over.
Here are some great books to get you started on a path toward a happy, healthy retirement:
- How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free: Retirement Wisdom that You Won’t Get from Your Financial Advisor by Ernie Zelinski
- Keys to a Successful Retirement: Staying Happy, Active, and Productive in Your Retired Years by Fritz Gilbert
- Retirement by Design: A Guided Workbook for Creating a Happy and Purposeful Future by Ida Abbott
- The Best is Yet to Be: Discovering the Secret to a Creative, Happy Retirement by Mike Bellah
- Winning at Retirement: A Guide to Health, Wealth & Purpose in the Best Years of Your Life by Patrick Foley
Maintaining your physical health and finding meaningful activities will help keep you fit as a fiddle as you age. It’s not retirement but the way that you use your time that’s the key to longevity, in this case.
What do you do, or plan to do, in retirement? Let us know in the comments.