Early retirement just might kill you
As you might have heard, most Americans aren't saving enough to retire at age 65. They'll have to save more or work longer if they hope to enjoy leisure in their golden years.
Plenty of financial planners will tell you this is a disaster. I think it's good news.
Unless you do it right -- and few people do -- retirement is terrible for your health.
A trio of researchers recently took a look at a sample of Austrian blue-collar workers. They found that men who retired earlier were also significantly more likely to die earlier, losing nearly two months of life for each extra year of retirement.
Early retirement seemed to have no effect on women in the studied population. In general, women live longer than men, so it's not surprising that women in this study generally outlived their male counterparts.
The scientists don't really know why men who take early retirement also head to comparatively early graves.
Possible reasons include the fact that people who are in poor health in the first place often take early retirement, as my father did when he had heart problems in his 50s. (He's still with us.)
The scientists guess, however, there's more to it than that.
Work is an organizing principle for many people's lives. They get up in the morning because they need to get to work and go to sleep at night because they're tired from work.
Even a desire to get even with a nasty boss can strongly motivate someone to get moving.
When people abruptly stop working, they lose that organizing principle.
The rounds of golf they were going to play and the trips they were going to take can all too easily devolve into a life spent on the sofa, watching too much television while eating, drinking and smoking.
The inactivity, food, drink and smoke are bad for physical health, and the sense of purposelessness is bad for psychological health. Together, these things work to kill folks off faster than they would otherwise go.
Sudden and nearly boundless free time can be as dangerous as sudden, nearly boundless money.
Just like it's difficult to spend money well and even more challenging to give it away, it's hard to organize your own time in fruitful ways. It's tougher still if you're accustomed to having an outside authority tell you what to do.
In other words, even though you might want to spend retirement being your own boss, you're probably not qualified for the job.
You can fix that:
- Find some work you like a lot, something you aren't in a rush to quit. Then don't quit it. Scale back if you like, but keep a part-time or freelance gig going as long as you're healthy enough to do it. My grandfather bought and sold several businesses in the course of his working life, but he didn't retire until he was 80 and then only because his boss needed someone full time. He lived to be 93, could wear the suits he bought as a young man and died of wearing out.
- Work for yourself, if only as a sideline. Being your own boss teaches you, well, to be your own boss. You'll learn how to manage your time and effort in productive ways, even without another person breathing down your neck.
- Failing that, get a hobby that you're passionate about. I don't mean "I'll play a few rounds of golf" passionate. I mean "I will complete that triathlon in under six hours for the third year in a row" passionate or "I will learn to speak Italian like a native" passionate. Take up a second career, whether you expect it to pay or not. Feel free to get started now, while you're still young and perky.
- Live like a woman. Most women don't make work their whole world. They also prioritize relationships with family and friends, and they're accustomed to ordering their own time as they raise children and manage homes. (Yes, women still do more of this, on average, than men do.) Once they retire, they've got people to spend time with and skills that help them manage all the hours in a week.
Astound the scientists. Learn to be in charge of yourself.