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Warning: Turning Age 62 May Be Hazardous to Your Health!

A new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) examines the reasons that there is a “robust” 2% increase in male mortality immediately after age 62. Women don’t suffer from this phenomenon. The study speculates there are three possible reasons:

  1. First, the paper notes that individuals frequently stop working or reduce work levels at this time.  Sometimes the change in work status is voluntary and sometimes it’s due to poor health.
  2. Second, according to the paper, upon stopping employment employer-sponsored health insurance ceases or is more expensive under continuing-coverage mandates. Because Medicare is unavailable until age 65, the paper speculates that men are not getting proper health care after age 62.
  3. Third, income can change at age 62 due to the arrival of Social Security income and the reduction in earnings. Again, with lower income, perhaps diet and health care suffer.

I can add to the possible reasons for the increase in mortality after age 62.

  • Men tend to have their social network through work compared to women. When a person leaves work, they leave their friends behind and life is harder when one is without friends and alone. Harder to find fun things to do too.
  • Men more than women find their identity at work; stopping work often means a man is no longer who he was. After leaving work, when a person asks a man “what do you do” a man often has difficulty answering the question.
  • Men often don’t have enough to do when they retire. Women seem to more easily move into the next phase of their life after work; men struggle. Without purpose and structure, life can be one long, boring, day of too much television and too little challenging activity.

It all adds up to a reduced quality of life which may lead to higher death rates for men at age 62. But take heart. There are things you can do while you are still working to combat these possible factors:

  1. Find friends outside of work.
  2. Find things you enjoy doing not related to work before you retire.
  3. Develop and strengthen your sense of self, your identity, outside of work. You are not your work. You are many things and worker is just one of them.

For more on this, I suggest you check out the book “What Color is Your Parachute for Retirement?” by Nelson and Bolles. It’s a terrific book with lots of good exercises to help you figure out what you’re going to do when you retire, who you’re going to do it with, and who you are when you’re not working. Based on the study by NBER, it’s a life or death exercise you need to take seriously.