Is retirement bad for your health?

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Your retirement may have an impact on your health. That’s the findings of three research projects in different countries.

German research

In Germany, Matthias Giesecke’s research looked at retired pensioners and when they retired. He says his report ‘demonstrates that retirement can have both mortality-decreasing and mortality-increasing effects’ depending on the timing and situation.

He says, ‘As a key finding I estimate a 1.1% – 3.1% reduction in male mortality immediately after retiring at the age of 63’. This is at least true for men who are in the ‘lower half’ of income and disappears among those with high earnings.

Those with lower incomes mostly retire from manual jobs in (or unemployment), which may mean that they leave work-place hazards or stress. The unemployed lose the stigma of unemployment. He suspects that both of these factors are ‘health-improving and mortality-reducing’.

In contrast, there’s a ‘considerable mortality increase just after retiring at the age of 65 for men (2.0% – 2.9%) and women (2.6% – 2.7%)’. And the rate is ‘remarkably higher’ among those with higher earnings.

Scottish research

In a study that began with all 11-year-olds in Scottish schools in 1947, 742 from the several thousand involved agreed to be a part of this study.

The researchers, Matthew H Iverson and Ian J Deary found that retirement brings with it ‘the loss of job prestige and social networks and these changes, most notably social isolation’, which in turn brings bad health in the retirement process.

They also conclude that ‘retiring from bad jobs with low earnings or hazardous work conditions tends to be health-improving while retiring from good jobs with high earnings and more prestigious occupations is dominated by adverse health effects’.

They discovered that immediately after retirement at age 63, male mortality rates are falling. However, there’s an increase in mortality for both men and women just after age 65. Not surprisingly, they suggest that poor post-retirement health is often related to poor health before retirement, and redundancy. One predictor of good health was higher cognitive ability in childhood.

Unite States research

In this research, Maria Fitzpatrick and Timothy Moore looked at the health (and deaths) of retirees aged 62, the age at which Social Security benefits are available in the US.
They discovered that the male mortality rate increases by about 2% at age 62. Over the 34 years they studied, this translates into an additional 11,000 deaths in the year after the 62nd birthday. The increase in mortality is higher for unmarried men and men without a high school diploma.

Almost 50% of the deaths are due to traffic accidents, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
The female mortality is much smaller and not so statistically significant.
To keep it interesting, they also discovered that ‘there was no increase in mortality at age 62 in the era when Social Security benefits were first available at age 65’. That signals that the retirement itself was the most significant factor.
So . . . ?
You can shrug this off and say, ‘Well, it’s only 2-3%, chances are that that I’ll be among the 97-98%’. A better way to go is to prepare for retirement in the following five ways:

1. Care for your health to be the healthiest you can be for retirement.

2. Have a plan for your retirement that you step into, but are willing to adjust as necessary.

3. Treat retirement as a significant life transition, not just a holiday.

4. Reflect on the positives of your retirement and see it as an opportunity.

5. Have a practical plan to be socially connected in retirement. Being connected is life affirming.

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of

Category: Attitude, Physical Health, Retirement

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