There is evidence that people who retire early tend to die earlier than people who do not. One interpretation of this finding is that having a sense of purpose improves psychological health and that psychological health is linked to physical health.

What is the evidence for the validity or invalidity of this interpretation? (I am equally interested in the validity of this interpretation with respect to early retirement and with respect to other measures/correlates of purpose.)


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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps this could be a cognitive sciences question but, as it is, it sounds much more like it fits better into other categories (stats, epidemiology). Try rewording it to having something to do with psychology, neuroscience, or psychiatry. (and read the FAQ) $\endgroup$ – John Jun 6 '12 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ I edited the question to highlight a possible psychological explanation of the finding. Health psychologists might be interested in this sort of finding and in its interpretation. $\endgroup$ – Chris Jun 6 '12 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ In a way, psych health is just health; are you talking more specifically about psychological stress having an effect on longevity? I think that's more clearly on topic $\endgroup$ – Ben Brocka Jun 6 '12 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ Not really. I am just assuming that the link between psychological and health outcomes is on topic. I realize that others may reasonably disagree. $\endgroup$ – Chris Jun 6 '12 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ I think this restatement is on-topic, and I have voted to reopen (and removed my downvote). However, I think the question could still be improved by connecting it better to what is already known, because an about.com article is not that much initial research. $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev Jun 6 '12 at 21:41

I did a little search and found an article by Moen (1996) which seems relevant. Moen summarised the existing evidence as follows:

Poor physical health is frequently a reason for retiring (Anderson & Burkhauser, 1985; Bound, 1991; Chirikos & Nestel, 1989; Palmore, Burchett, Filenbaum, George, & Wallman, 1985), leading to a view of a unidirectional link between health and retirement (see Figure 1). In support of this one-way model, most of the existing research literature has shown that retirement per se is not directly related to early mortality or health decline. However, there is some evidence that being retired affects psychological symptoms (Bosse, Aldwin, Levenson, Spiro, & Mroczek, 1993; Ekerdt, 1987). Other studies show that retired individuals sometimes report improvements in their (subjectively rated) health status following retirement (Ekerdt, Bosse, & Locastro, 1983). Most early research on retirement suggests that being retired has no deleterious effects on either physical or psychological health; most retirees say they are satisfied with their retirement and some even report better health (Atchley, 1976; Barfield & Morgan, 1968; McGoldrick & Cooper, 1989; Streib & Schneider, 1971). However, research on the effects of the loss of the work role through retirement often ignores the complexity of the retirement transition, including issues of timing, previous health, and quality of the employment experience (McGoldrick & Cooper, 1988). George (1993) pointed out that most research on stress and well-being fails to consider either the social contexts or the timing of potentially stressful life experiences, such as retirement.


  • Anderson, K. H., & Burkhauser, R. V. (1985). The retirement-health nexus: A new measure of an old puzzle. The Journal of Human Resources, 20, 315-330.
  • Atchley, R. (1976). The sociology of retirement. New York: Schenkman.
  • Barfield, R., & Morgan, J. N. (1968). Early retirement: The decision and the experiences. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research.
  • Bound, J. (1991). Self-reported objective measures of health in retirement models. The Journal of Human Resources, 26, 108-137.
  • Bosse, R., Aldwin, C. M., Levenson, M. R., Spiro, A., & Mroczek, D. K. (1993). Change in social support after retirement: Longitudinal findings from the normative aging study. Journal of Gerontology, 48, 210-217.
  • Chirikos, T. N., & Nestel, G. (1989). Occupation, impaired health, and the functional capacity of men to continue working. Research on Aging, 11, 174-205.
  • Ekerdt, D. J. (1987). Why the notion persists that retirement harms health. Gerontologist, 27, 454-^57.
  • Ekerdt, D. J., Bosse, R., & Locastro, J. S. (1983). Claims that retirement improves health. Journal of Gerontology, 38, 231-236.
  • George, L. K. (1993). Sociological perspectives on life transitions. Annual Review of Sociology, 19, 353-373.
  • McGoldrick, A., & Cooper, C. (1988). Early retirement. Chichester, England: Gower
  • Moen, P. (1996). A Life Course Perspective on Retirement, Gender, and Well-Being. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 1, 131-144.
  • Palmore, E. B., Burchett, B. M., Filenbaum, G. G., George, L. K., & Wallman, L. M. (1985). Retirement: Causes and consequences. New York: Springer.
  • Streib, G. F, & Schneider, C. J. (1971). Retirement in American society. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
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