ZURICH — Early retirement can kill you. Or, at least, it can feel like a part of you has died.
A new study from the University of Zurich looking at workers in Austria found that each year of early retirement causes an increase in the risk of premature death of 2.4 percentage points (a relative increase of about 13.4 percent).
But before you go and decide to work for another 10 years to save your life, there is some hope in the study "Fatal Attraction? Access to Early Retirement and Mortality," by Andreas Kuhn, Jean-Philippe Wüllrich and Josef Zweimüller.
First off, it only applies to men. Secondly, they were blue collar workers — people who likely did physical work. Thirdly the worst effects seem only to happen with men who were forced into early retirement.
These men would go home take up more drinking and smoking and basically do nothing but die sooner.
Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill remembers when she worked for Exxon in the Human Resources department. It was the 1980s and the company was pioneering one of the nation's first big downsizings. O'Neill and her fellow young employees thought how nice it had to be for many of the executives to retire early with millions of dollars.
"A lot of these guys were getting clinically depressed," she said.
People may look forward to retirement, but few are really prepared to change their lives so drastically. Having finances in place is only part of the picture. Being emotionally ready and changing the way they live now will make a big difference when that day comes around — whether it is planned or unexpected.
O'Neill is now a marriage and family therapist in Mount Kisco, N.Y. and author of "A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage." In her practice she has notice more and more baby boomers coming in with retirement problems.
One of O'Neill's clients is in semi-retirement. He doesn't golf. He doesn't like sports. He has no hobbies. "And so his self-image without the job becomes really empty," she said.
Another of O'Neill's clients said recently, "I don't know what I am anymore."
Working to retire
Ernie J. Zelinski, author of "The Joy of Not Working" and "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free" agrees that, for many, retirement takes away a source of their identity. Everything was tied up in work — and suddenly it is gone.
Zelinski said there were three important needs met by working:
If all these things are tied up in work, retirement is a wrenching experience — a painfully ironic situation. You work to retire and then retire and wish you were at work.
The study, which looked at workers in Austria, found that women are more immune to these problems. Kuhn, Wüllrich and Zweimüller say early retirement may not affect women's health. "Women may be more capable of coping with major life events such as retirement," they said; "they may be more health-conscious and adopt less unhealthy behaviors (such as smoking, drinking and unhealthy diet); they may be more active after permanently exiting the labor market due to their higher involvement in household activities; and they may suffer less from a loss of social status and identity because work is less central in life for additional income earners as compared to the main breadwinner."
O'Neill said women have more to grab onto when they retire from the workplace. They did more of the parenting, for example and that doesn't go away. They still plan the family get togethers.
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