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Hey Man, Premature Retirement Kills

| December 24, 2017
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I came across this study by Cornell economists Maria Fitzpatrick and Timothy Moore and want to share it with you, dear reader.

The gist is that US Census figures reveal a clear correlation between premature death and premature retirement. The correlation is most glaring among men, who have a 20 percent higher mortality risk if they start claiming Social Security benefits at 62 - three years before the standard 65 year old full retirement age. Women don't seem to have a measurable correlation. Not only can they vote, drive a car, and own land, they also can retire whenever the mood strikes them. Must be nice.

It's important to remember that correlation is not causation. In fact, several working papers have posited that it is poor health or “quasidisablity” that leads many to retire early. This cause for early retirement is also the cause for increased mortality, at least in theory.

Well, the curious epidemiologists at Oregan State University have done research taking the poor health causality into account. Here's what they found:

During the study period, about 12 percent of the healthy and 25.6 percent of the unhealthy retirees died. Healthy retirees who worked a year longer had an 11 percent lower risk of mortality, while unhealthy retirees who worked a year longer had a 9 percent lower mortality risk. Working a year longer had a positive impact on the study participants’ mortality rate regardless of their health status.

Preliminary deductions are that healthy or unhealthy, delaying retirement and continuing to work seems to add years to your life. So what does this mean for you or the retiring old man in your life?

First, a disclaimer. I am not an epidemiologist or researcher. I am not a priest or a life coach. What follows is merely the musings and observations of a fellow sojourner. I reserve the right change my mind on this topic as new finding come to light. That being said, men need work.

At the risk of being politically incorrect, men and women are different. I hope this isn't too great a shock to you. Bill Farrel wrote a book called Men are Like Waffles and Women are Like Spaghetti. The main points are that a man's brain is made like a waffle with separate spaces for each aspect of his life. The compartments must be filled with maple syrup and he's good to go. A women's brain is like spaghetti. It's a multi-tasking gestalt of intertwined and interdependent thoughts and feelings.

From this analogy, I feel that women don't need to work and they don't need to retire. Women can just wake up in the morning and find purpose in working or not working, retiring or not retiring. There's very little difference to a woman either way. Retired women are the hardest workers I know. You can probably think of working women who have a robust family and social life. Must be nice.

But men like me are stuck in the caveman, hunter-gatherer days. We are wired to find our self-worth and value in our ability to produce something. When we take that away a huge part of us begins to atrophy and finally die. What should be a time of basking in the sun turns into boredom.

But how does boredom turn into death? I'm not sure, but my guess is that it's psychosomatic. When I complete a big project at work or home I often get sick and run down afterward. I used to think it was because of the stress. Now I suspect that I was sick all along, but having a purpose and a deadline galvanized my immune system. Once the purpose and deadline were gone, my body let's itself get sick. I know this isn't strict science, remember the disclaimer above.

For men, purpose and deadlines are tied to their identity. You've no doubt heard of the placebo affect. The mind can make you feel better. Well, there is also the nocebo effect. In the Aborignal culture, a tribe can execute a member by pointing a “poison” stick at him. There's no medical reason for him to die, but he does.

Whether you agree with my hunches on causality there are some common-sense steps you can take to retire at just the right time and live a long, happy life:

  1. Never stop producing. You can retire, just remember you need to balance consumption with contribution to your tribe and creativity for your soul. Does that sound familiar?
  2. Find work you enjoy now. If you're still working and hate every minute, there will be health consequences. Stress effects your health and your emotions. If you think that you'll finally be happy when you quit your job, you may be disappointed.
  3. Create a rock solid financial plan. When you retire, you have to put money worries to rest. To fully enjoy retirement, map out realistic expectations and commit to preparing for the best chapter of your life.

If you'd like to continue this conversation, click here.

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