How to Die Young: Retire Early

We’ve all heard stories of guys who, after busting their hump for 40 years, kick the bucket at their retirement party or shortly thereafter. These stories scare the crap out of me and make me wonder about the idea of retirement, or on the flip side, working so hard to accomplish retirement. After all, what happens when we retire? For many, a whole lot of nothing. Maybe some games of bridge, golf, and laying on the beach, but doesn’t that get boring? Yes, and in fact, it might even bore you to death!

Photo by Ernst Moeksis via Flickr

Don’t believe me? Consider this:

In a study done by Shell Corporation a shocking discovery was made about the age of retirement when correlated with age of death. According to the article:

People who retire at 55 are 89% more likely to die in the 10 years after retirement than those who retire at 65.

Doesn’t that seem a bit backwards? So they found that the workers living to the age of 65 were 89% more likely to live 10 more years after retirement even though they were 10 years older than their early retirement counterparts. I find that to be completely shocking, I hope you would as well.

So what does this mean?

The only difference between the two groups was retirement from work. From this we could infer that work could be the reason we continue to live as long as we do because it gives us purpose. Many people who leave work aren’t really sure what to do with their days. I can relate as one of the worst months of my life was when I was unemployed, not because I didn’t know where money was coming from, but because I didn’t have anything to work towards. Even if you’re financially free at retirement, it doesn’t mean you’ll be living a fulfilling life.

Is work your purpose?
Without a purpose people tend to live shorter lives. This is simply because without purpose they will not have motivation to live. Sounds a bit morbid, but it’s true. When Dan Buettner discussed his research on centurions (those living to over the age of 100) as a TED presentation, he found that they were all able to tell him exactly what their purpose was. Ironic? I doubt it.

Is this purpose found through our work, or is it something that can be gained outside of employment? For many, work is their purpose, so through retiring from work they’re often retiring from their purpose.

From both the Shell survey and the TED video it would seem that if you want to live a full life, early retirement would not be the best option. However, working towards something related to your purpose your whole life may be your best bet at hitting the 100 year mark.

What do you think? Do you plan on retiring at or before 55?

What are your thoughts about early retirement?

Do you think the survey has any flaws?

About the Author

By , on Feb 19, 2010
Ryan is the writer behind Planting Dollars, a blog about his own financial journey, personal finance, and starting small businesses. He is also active in the Milwaukee real estate Market and specializes in Milwaukee Condos.

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Leave Your Comment (25 Comments)

  1. Sun says:

    Hi, @ 33 I was able to “retire” off of positive cash flow real estate investments, around $7000/month and a $1M net worth. Not a lot of dough, however, I AM FREE and liquid.

    Now, with regards to vision, I have a HUGE vision and have been coaching people to start their own home based business’ around their skills, passions and talents. I work 10 days a month and from that business earn a nice six figure income.

    So folks, it’s not about money. It’s about Vision and purpose in life. My clients are 30 to 50 years old and I help them create drive and vision.

    Find your true vocation and live your purpose.

    God bless!


  2. Mike says:

    Interesting. My wife always says that if I retire early that I will die early. I tend to disagree. I can’t stand going to work and I don’t think I actually get any purpose in my life from it outside of collecting a pay check. I’m also more than happy to just sit at home and smoke some pot. I’m going to risk it!

  3. Gary says:

    I think if you have a purpose and passion at retirement you will do much better. I have seen several people die at work, and am not convinced that early retirement would escalate your death rate. I plan to retire early and work helping others, and also travel.

  4. D. Weber says:

    I know many retirees who retired at ages late 50s or early 60s because of stress related medical issues. In retirement, they were able to diagnose and treat these medical issues and gain better health and fitness. Then they felt much better and their quality of life improved. They were able to pursue a different interest with more vigor.

  5. Beth says:

    Or you could just retire @ 40 like me and when the money runs out, just take a bunch of pills. Not that I can’t have children (NEVER wanted to adopt) I don’t want to get married. I have hated every job I have ever had and I was happy to walk away when I had saved enough money. I haven’t saved much – under $5M, but I’m traveling a lot and just spending like crazy right now. Haven’t touched the principle, yet, but who knows what the future holds.

    As my grandmother says – life is long when you’re unhappy. I can’t wait to die. I’m going to die broke and I look forward to it.

    • Pinyo says:

      @Beth – I’d love to know how you get to $5M at 40. That is quite an accomplishment.

      • Beth says:

        I worked on Wall Street. I made rich people a lot of money. And I managed to snag some for myself! LOL!

        Finance is one area where you can make a lot of money and have an employer and not have to commit to years of advanced training – think medical school.

        I started in the early 90s and I had a degree from a Tier 1 business school and also got a degree in computer science. When I showed up on Wall Street, my computer skills alone had me @ mid six figures WITHOUT A KILLER BONUS by the time I was 25. I was lucky. The timing was just right. And I took a lot of risk in my investments. I knew I wasn’t going to last long, so I had to buy my main house outright in five years and then have enough money to live off my investments comfortably. I also bought real estate around the world.

        For some reason, I was able to have a laser focus on getting out of my industry. Sometimes hating your career makes you ambitious! Who knew!

  6. Scott wade lamper says:

    Cool site. I agree that for people such as I ,early retirement was a mistake. My wife and I started a small business in our community. It was successful and all I planned for was save, invest,then retire. I found identity in our company and have way too much time to think about myself. I find I get depressed, drink too much now. I sold our company four years ago, at fifty. My wife likes to volenteer etc. so she is pretty happy, I do not like the volunteering, missions etc.

  7. JohnG says:

    As I write this, Europe, Spain for example, is full of young people who have retired at age 22 because college is over and they can’t find a job. What is their life expectancy? I assume many are living with parents, staying up late watching tv, rising late, hanging out with friends at local pubs.

    For me unemployment at various times meant depression which is stressful and I’d suspect is life shortening. Even now at 58.8 I find it difficult to keep myself entertained though I’m making progress. For me the block to finding meaningful work is this requires a strong faith in yourself that what you do could be meaningful. If you don’t see yourself as meaningful you can’t very well do meaningful work. I suspect this is what kills men 3 years after retirement. They come to see themselves as meaningless. They see their son and their sons as meaningful, only others who have youth, kids, a job are meaningful. Work has allowed us to focus, not on our being, our feelings, but on tasks which when taken away makes us crazy like the junkie who no longer gets his drug. I’d rather see the retiree picket the company every day in protest for their xyz policy toward aging, etc. We think in the west that as long as someone is compensated they can’t be exploited. The modern capitalistic society is based on the military model imbued into our culture in the 1940s. This model is broken for industry but no one has noticed. In the West, we men see ourselves as mini-factories where our goal is production and efficiency. I caught myself once trying to dry myself after a shower as efficiently as possible! As I read eastern philosophy I’ve come to see it is better to enjoy the experience of a towel absorbing water on wet skin, being thankful for the relaxation of hot water, the feel of clean skin after application of soap. With the summer off, my mind daily slays me with “so what productive thing are you doing now? What about now? How ‘bout now? Now?”

    To see if you can be healthy in retirement, test yourself the next time your “stuck” in traffic. Do you see yourself as “stuck”? Do you feel “caged”? I was driving through Guatemala in May 1978 and traffic came to a stand still. Guess what that population did? They got out of their cars, started to socialized, soon street vendors passed by selling home made goodies, and folks made a party out it. This tells me years later this population didn’t see themselves as mini-factories, punished for not being productive.

  8. Gabi says:

    These statistics are sometimes misleading. Confusing correlation with causality. Sounds pompous but it is at the essence of this study.

    So people that work longer live longer. Let’s assume that’s a fact. Question is: Do they live longer because they work OR they can work longer because they are a healthier bunch and thus live longer.

  9. Cassie says:

    While I agree to an extent, I think it depends on how engrained the job has become to the person’s very existence and identity. If all throughout their working lives people had this passion that they just didn’t have the time for at work, then retiring early to do that would probably actually make them healthier and feel more alive. I think it really comes down to having a purpose. If you don’t have a purpose outside of work, then yes this makes a lot of sense!

  10. stan rogers says:

    somebody i knew died 2 months after retirement at age 66. we’ll never know whether he would have dropped dead at the co. if he had been working that very month or if retirement shortened his life, the way it seems to afflict many retirees.

  11. Pam says:

    I think people definitely need to feel that they have a sense of purpose in order to live a satisfying life. I certainly don’t think it’s early retirement that is causing these people to die younger. A lot of people retire before they are 65 and fill their lives with volunteer activities and hobbies that keep them busy. Besides, many jobs are hardly fulfilling or satisfying. Most people find their meaning and sense of purpose outside of their day jobs.

  12. @kenyantykoon – The way I see it is that early retirement allows you to do different things rather than being locked into a career track from which it is hard to change direction (hence the word track). These things do not necessarily have to include earning money. For instance, my first “era” was being a scientist. It looks like my second “era” is as a writer. I think my third “era” will either be as a sailor (I’d like to go for some long distance sailing) or a martial arts teacher. If you are really into extreme sports, you could always get into organizing them, eventually.

  13. kenyantykoon says:

    this is weird because i have been thinking about retirement a lot this past week. i thought that early retirement was the best way to go seeing that you have all the time in the world to do whatever your heart desires like skydiving and paragliding and all the extreme sports that come to mind. but something that i realised is that this would get boring and wondered what i would like to be doing when i am 50. what came to mind was not snowboarding in the Himalayas but working, preferably on my own business. so with this in mind i decided that the best way to go was to nurture my business in a way that i will have enough time to do those crazy things(extreme sports) when i am free but still want to do it when i am graying. hopefully, if things go well i will never have to retire because working will still be fun and exciting(this is what aging billionaires say about their work) and i will have good menories about jumping off planes and whatnot 🙂

  14. Ryan says:

    Thanks for sharing ERE, I’ll go check it out after this comment. I’m not convinced one way or another, but think mostly it revolves around having a purpose and taking care of yourself. A job may or may not fulfill both of those. As you discuss in your blog a lot of people wouldn’t know what to do outside their jobs so people with that mentality leaving work may not be the best.

  15. I found another study that shows the opposite, namely, that retiring early increases total lifespan.

  16. The Rat says:

    I’m curious if the study mentions anything about people retiring in their 30s and how that could affect their health?

    Regarding the findings, I still tend to have the impression that the sooner one retires, the less stress he/she will have and the person can perhaps focus more on quality of life, exercise, and good rest. My inclination is to think that the study has some flaws in it and I think it would be difficult to determine the accuracy of the numbers.

    Nice post though! It really makes you think.

  17. Ted says:

    Fascinating! I want to retire early. Hmmm. Maybe the idea is to retire into something. Into a second career. Into writing. Something like that. I have a good friend who retired early and is now looking for work in the non-profit world. Now that he is set for retirement- he can look for much more meaningful work. I think that is the trick. Find meaningful work, even if it is not paid or is lower paid.

  18. This is an awesome find!

  19. Mr. MBA says:

    It is crazy stuff when it comes to retirement and death. It seems that when someone retires, all that they lived for suddenly changes and for some that is the end of needing to take care of one’s self.

    The idea should be to focus on another goal that takes the place of work and the strict rules that follow that. I have a site myself that tries to help people in the financial areas of their lives.

    It is amazing that some though flourish in the carefree environment of retirement. If you are unsure of what to do, then stop over.

  20. Jodi says:

    You omitted an important point in the Shell study:
    “This difference could not be attributed to the effects of sex, socioeconomic status, or calendar year of the study, although the poorer health status of some early retirees may play some part,” note Shan P. Tsai and colleagues at Shell Health Services.”

    Of course if people are retiring early at age 55 because they are in poor health that will affect the results. Without controlling for this factor, this study is useless and cannot be used to support any argument about the effect of “purpose” on longevity.

  21. Ryan says:

    I’m glad you brought that point up ERE. There is a correlation, which I see too as people finding purpose in work. How did you come up with the number 94?

  22. I think a great many do find structure and sense of purpose as an employee. Of course this correlation does not mean that work causes a long life. For some work also causes a great deal of stress, elevated blood pressure, bad diets, early heart attacks, etc. Also, what if you start believing your work is pointless? Thus I think it is more complicated than that. I expect to live to 94 or so.

  23. Larry Buffington says:

    I do not know if the survey was flawed, but of the hundreds that I know who retired before 9-11 or shortly after almost all are still with us. I am surprised that more have not passed since we all worked in chemicals and under stress. So far so good.

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