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Data Shows Retirement’s Negative Effect on Mortality Rates

About one-third of Americans immediately claim Social Security at age 62 when eligibility begins. In the same month, men and women start claiming Social Security, overall mortality increases by 1.5%.

This is driven by a 2% increase in male mortality, which is statistically significant. For women, there is a 1% increase in mortality the month they turn 62, but this is not larger than morality estimates at nearby ages. Importantly, this PURCE research finds no overall increase in mortality at age 62 prior to the 1960s, when it was not the Social Security eligibility threshold.Tim Moore

In “The Mortality Effects of Retirement: Evidence from Social Security Eligibility at Age 62,” published in the Journal of Public Economics, Purdue Associate Professor of Economics Dr. Tim Moore and coauthor Dr. Maria Fitzpatrick of Cornell University show that declining labor force participation leads to an immediate jump in mortality.

Key takeaways from their findings include:

  • Overall mortality increases by 1.5% in the month Americans turn 62.
  • There is a robust 2% increase in male mortality immediately after age 62. The change in female mortality is smaller and not statistically significant.
  • Men and women claim Social Security at age 62 at roughly the same rate. However, men reduce their labor force participation more than women, making it a possible explanation for why their mortality increases at 62.

Analysis suggests a strong link between the increase in male mortality and retirement from the labor force and associated lifestyle changes.

While their findings document only a weak link between change in mortality and Social Security receipt, they find that retirement itself has an immediate, negative effect on an important, objective measure of health: mortality rates.

Social Security beneficiaries are not required to stop working, though most do substantially decrease their employment after claiming the benefit at age 62. For one narrowly defined subgroup --men who retire at age 62 --mortality increases by approximately 20%.

Moore’s research finds a clear link between a widespread retirement incentive --Social Security benefits, the only such incentive available starting at age 62 --and mortality.

Why the Increase?

Available evidence suggests it is unlikely that changes in health insurance and income can account for the increase in mortality at age 62. So, to further examine the plausibility of retirement leading to higher mortality, Moore examines which causes of death increase when men turn 62, and considers the connection between those and decreased labor force participation.

The causes of death with the clearest increases for men at age 62 are traffic accidents and two lung-related conditions: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. This is consistent with suggestive evidence that men engage in more unhealthy behaviors once they retire. The mortality increase is largest for unmarried men and men with low education levels.

There is enormous interest in the effect of retirement on health, especially given the aging of the population and the reforms to retirement policies underway in the U.S. and other developed countries. Evidence of a rise in mortality once Social Security is available represents an important step forward in understanding the relationship between retirement and health.