Most people think of their retirement as golden years when they will pursue hobbies and passions they did not have time for when working full-time. But a study by Maria Fitzpatrick, the BCTR’s Milman Fellow, finds that the post-work years may not be so idyllic.
Fitzpatrick published a working paper that examined the link between retirement and health. To do this, she and her coauthor, Timothy Moore, combined data on mortality from the National Center for Health Statistics, a longitudinal data set of all deaths in the U.S., and Social Security benefits records.
Since Social Security benefits are first available at age 62, many people retire when they reach that age. Fitzpatrick wanted to find out if there were also sudden changes in health at that age. She found an increase in mortality for men at age 62. The increased risk was smaller and not as clear for women.
Since both men and women are most likely to collect Social Security benefits at age 62, but only men are more likely to retire, the increase in mortality is likely not related to collecting new benefits, but retiring from work, Fitzpatrick said.
“Retirement is a time of people’s lives when there is a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “The results from our study suggest that people thinking about early retirement should pay close attention to their health as they transition to retirement. They should be sure to take care of themselves, be careful in their activities, especially driving, and check in with a physician if anything goes awry.”
Fitzpatrick did find some limitations in the data. Specifically, there was no way to tell if the increases in mortality continued in the long-term as people got older and no way to measure mortality rates when people retired at ages other than 62.
Fitzpatrick is an associate professor in the Department of Policy and Management and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.