Dreaming of early retirement? Don’t ditch your cubicle for a catamaran just yet. According to one recent study published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, healthy people who work well into their old age may have a lower mortality risk than individuals who quit their jobs at 65, The Guardian reports.
Researchers from Oregon State University examined data from 2956 people who took part in the Healthy Retirement Study, a long-term assessment performed from 1992 to 2010 by the National Institute on Aging and the University of Michigan. In 1992, the individuals were all employed. By 2010, they had all retired. About 33 percent of the retirees had quit working at age 66 or older, whereas 12 percent had finished working at 65, and 55 percent before 65. One-third of the retirees had left their jobs because of health problems; the rest reported that they were in good physical condition.
Throughout the course of the 18-year study, 12.1 percent of “healthy” retirees died, and 25.6 percent of unhealthy retirees died, The Wall Street Journal reports. However, after taking lifestyle and demographics into account, researchers noted that healthy retirees who stopped working at age 67 had a 21 percent lower risk of overall mortality than those people who had only retired two years earlier, at the age of 65.
This trend became more pronounced as retirement age increased. Individuals who retired at age 70 were 44 percent less likely to die from all causes than their 65-year-old counterparts, and by the time they reached 72 the risk of death was 56 percent lower.
These findings were extended to the group of “sick” workers. Even if a worker struggled with health issues, they still faced a 9 percent lower risk of dying if they just waited one more year after their Social Security benefits kicked in and quit work at age 66. By the age of 67, they had a 17 percent lower chance of death, and by 72 years old they had a 48 percent reduced mortality risk.
Researchers say they don’t know why, exactly, work might help people live longer. “It may not apply to everybody, but we think work brings people a lot of economic and social benefits that could impact the length of their lives,” Chenkai Wu, the study's lead author, said in a statement.
Of course, New York magazine points out that past studies on retirement and age of death show inconclusive results. Some of them don’t find a causal link between retirement age and life length, and researchers have noted that early retirement yields both pros (less stress, greater enjoyment from life) and cons (decreased activity, loss of social networks).
In short, nobody has a definite answer for whether a few extra years of work will truly provide you with a few extra years of life. However, experts have found that individuals live longer if they have social support, stay active, and feel a sense of overall purpose in life. Work might provide these benefits for some people—but if someone doesn’t like their profession or co-workers, the jury's still out on whether sticking with their day gig for a few more years is worth it in the long run.
[h/t The Guardian]