Stress illustration

Research

Stress is One Reason People Retire

Only about half of U.S. workers in their late 50s can be expected to remain employed at age 63, and less than a third make it past 65.

New research looks below the surface of these broad trends to reveal the role that the specific characteristics of individual occupations play in whether baby boomers can work longer.

It’s very common for people unexpectedly hit with health problems or blue-collar workers facing up to their physical limitations to retire earlier. On the other hand, older people in some jobs have good odds of working longer. A new study by researchers from the University of Michigan and the Rand Corporation uncovered three characteristics that promote working longer that exist in a variety of jobs: low stress, stable job demands and duties, and the ability to transition to part-time work.

The researchers used a survey of full-time workers over time, starting when they were 51 years old, to see when they retired. Their analysis then linked the workers to a separate database of job skills and characteristics to uncover specific jobs that led to earlier retirements (before age 63) or later retirements (after 65).

Research has consistently shown a strong tendency for high-stress work to push people out the door earlier – one example that emerged from this study is licensed practical nurses, who are on the front lines in challenging medical situations. A related finding is that people retiring after 65 are often in “creative or labor-of-love” jobs,” such as writers, musicians, social workers, clergy, and college professors. This is indirectly tied to stress, which is often mitigated by a love of one’s work.

People who try to continue working well into their 60s must grapple with the cognitive limitations that come with aging. That can be even more difficult if they feel their jobs have become more difficult over the years or require increasingly difficult tasks. Computer scientists who must keep up with technological change fit this description, and the researchers found that they tend to retire earlier.

People also tend to work longer if they’re in full-time jobs that provide the flexibility to eventually set their hours or work part-time.  The study names taxi drivers, chauffeurs, security guards, and couriers.  These jobs also offer social engagement, which is known to reduce stress and improve well-being. However, moving into part-time work in a current job was not an option for the majority of the older workers in the study.

The researchers’ bottom line conclusion is that the characteristics of a job tell us more than the job’s title.

The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

14 Responses to Stress is One Reason People Retire

  1. John Schultz says:

    I recently retired at 62. My health is still fine and I could continue on in a job that consults on marketing and sales, as I did for 45 years. I have always picked my own hours and clients.

    But during the first month of retirement I felt a huge relief and knew I made the right decision. I feel it depends on the individual and how they feel about it.

  2. Brian says:

    Those factors that are listed – stress, job demands, etc. are factors related to higher and higher levels of responsibility – AND compensation.

    On the one hand to bemoan that pay is not keeping up with inflation, or not earning a living wage, or debt being incurred, or not maintaining a desirable lifestyle, while at the same time, not wanting to pay one’s dues that are specific to the occupation at higher levels of responsibility appears to be contradictory.

    The article mentions “Computer Scientists” – that was my occupation. (My wife was a financial analyst.) Yes, it was challenging keeping up with the latest technology and all that comes with that job. At the same time, at the time I retired (6 years ago at 55 years old) I (and my wife as well) were both healthy, empty nesters, and were both making significant 6-figure incomes, had amassed a significant retirement portfolio, paid-off house, no debt, blah, blah, blah…

    Every decision has a cost. Nothing is free. Everyone must make that choice for themselves of whether and for how long and for how much compensation one is willing to put up with the stress, etc. We made the choice. Now we’re able to do all those other creative, labor-of-love things that we’re passionate about – and not have financial worries.

    • Tom says:

      You were fortunate you both had 6 figure jobs that allowed you to retire when you want. Most middle class Americans don’t have that luxury. Not everyone has the choice you imply they have. That’s part of what the article says. Some have health issues, etc. Consider yourself lucky.
      I’m 64, and still work because I want to. My wife hasn’t worked in over 30 years, choosing to be a housewife and raise the family. We have 2 homes, north and south, millions in investments, and I consider us to be very lucky. Not all had the opportunities I did. You can’t assume all do, which is the impression that comes from your tone.

    • Tom says:

      Also, there are tremendous levels of stress at low paying jobs as well. You imply that if someone wants to make more money, they need to take the higher paying stressful jobs. You imply they take the easy way out and take less stressful low paying jobs, so they shouldn’t complaun. You are so wrong and sound arrogant. Just sayin’

  3. jschmidt says:

    I can confirm stress can be an incentive to retire. Downsizing when you’re in your 60s is also a big stress, as you abilities and contributions to a company are no longer valued. And even if you find ways to keep up the pace, the generation behind you looks at you as out of step. My biggest annoyance is for the people who think just because you are older, you can’t understand the technology. The generations behind don’t understand that those in their 60s put men on the moon and created the computer and Internet industry. So understanding a cell phone or social media is not difficult. The net result is a person feels they have had enough, and if they can afford it, they pack it in.

  4. Mark Tonoff says:

    If you are able to work a few more years past age 62, it will have a major impact on your retirement income and will allow you to delay claiming Social Security past your FRA. Although early retirement may be appealing, there are serious financial consequences for a couple if at least one of them lives into their 80’s.

  5. CK says:

    I think the ability to transition to part-time is a big plus, but very rare for most. Although I enjoy my job (in technology), I was feeling stressed, not so much from the job specifically but working in general, because I did not feel like I had enough time for myself, for family, etc. I also had a health issue and wanted to have more time to focus on recovery and fitness. Because of a unique situation (and perhaps the stars aligning), this year I was able to reduce my work week from 5 days to 4, and it has made a huge difference. It feels like I have so much more free time from just that one extra weekend day! Financially, I need to continue working for a while, but now I don’t mind. I feel very fortunate because I know many people my age (62) are working hard in jobs that are stressful and difficult. If reducing hours at work even by one day is a possibility, I highly recommend it!

  6. Elin Zander says:

    I do not agree that job stress is always correlated with higher levels of responsibility and compensation. It is my experience that, in healthcare, a lot of stress is experienced by clinicians trying to provide quality care in an ever more difficult environment. Our responsibilities to the patients are the same; our ability to deliver the same level of care is compromised by time and financial constraints. This leads to stress and burn-out in the front-line staff: nurses, physicians and dietitians. Not so sure about the administrators and CEO’s! That is why I will retire as soon as I can afford to.

  7. peter says:

    I work for the largest corporation in Connecticut and reductions in the workforce have caused remaining employees to take on more responsibilities and increased hours. I have seen in my organization successful and well-respected people leaving in their 50s due to stress on the job. Interesting insight on how to endure the long run.

  8. Paul Brustowicz says:

    Stress was the reason for my wife’s early retirement at age 62. Her position in a “health care system,” read hospitals under one name, was affecting her health. Pay was not commensurate with demands of management and doctors.

    I had planned to work to age 68 or longer but an abrupt change in management with a supervisor who treated me like a newcomer changed my mind. I was out the door before age 67.

    Happy, Happy, Happy with both decisions.

  9. Emily Booth says:

    The handwriting was on the wall & I made the very difficult decision to take early retirement at age 56 five years ago. I love working. I really do. My intention was to find a part time job and work til Social Security age or perhaps even 70. It didn’t happen. My life is currently a patchwork of meaningful volunteer work and creative classes. I always thought I’d be working but this desire, the longer I am retired, has become more and more fleeting.

  10. Esther says:

    Yes, stress is largely responsible for my retirement at age 62, but not by choice. Since the economic downturn, it has been increasingly difficult to maintain employment in any arena, health notwithstanding. Ageism translates to many positions being advertised for “energetic, fast-paced environments,” changes in health insurance costs also factor into ageism for employers who perceive “older” employees taking advantage of health benefits. Add to that employers who don’t want to pay salaries related to experience, who figure they can get two 29 year olds cheaper than they can get one 58 year old, and even if you have kept up your skill levels and changes in the marketplace with social media, etc, valuable people are being forced out of the work world. Not everyone can be “creative” enough to start their own business, or market themselves as a consultant. After my last job was “folded into another position” at my company, once again tried to throw myself into the job search, until unemployment suddenly ended after 12 weeks and I was left on December 23 without money to pay rent, put food on the table for my teenager and me, or buy another healthcare plan. Settling those things took almost a full year, at which point the gap in my resume left me getting few interviews. Now I try to figure out how I will live on meager Social Security income once my daughter is in college (3 years) and we no longer receive SS for her. Happy retirement?

  11. AEB says:

    I observe that most of the comments above have been made by men. Women often don’t have the “option” of early retirement because they are divorced (read negatively effected financially) and generally, don’t make as much money through the course of their career. In addition, the high stress positions mentioned in this article, with the exception of health care, are generally heavily populated by men.

    No matter what your sex, however, stress is the silent killer. Environments that create unrealistic performance expectations or expect Herculean levels of time and effort can take a toll on the physical body of an older worker. No matter how young we Baby Boomers want to be, our bodies will remind us that they need more attention — sleep, down time and recreation — as we age.

    Chronic stress, often coupled with lack of sleep or poor sleep contributes to hypertension, heart disease and stroke among others. When I was 14 I watched my 49-year-old father suffer from a heart attack due to unrealistic performance expectations. After two more heart attacks, bypass surgery, early retirement for medical reasons and finally a stroke, he was dead at 68. And his motto was “I work to live. I do not live to work.” My family feels that he was cheated of that opportunity by the company he diligently worked for for 30 years.

    In a world of 24×7 work and connectivity to work, who can blame us if we feel chronically stressed and choose to retire early?

  12. Chris says:

    I, at just past 65, think everyday about retiring. I believe I need to work to 66 for the 100% benefit of Social Security. My husband had to take his SS at 62 so that is permanently reduced. I work in a hospital system that believes itself to be so much better than the community sees it. The general culture and atmosphere for employees is demoralizing, and as a clerical HIM tech under a micro manager who believes I’m not fast enough or meticulous enough. I have worked in the Medical Record field for years, until this job obtained 3 years ago, considered a very good and efficient employee. The micro-managing borders on harassment and is wearing me out and making me unwell. My husband is on my hospital insurance and we both now have some chronic and serious health issues, I believe they determine who costs them too much and work to get you to leave. Gladly I would if it were possible to manage for the next 9 months to age 66. Hate to be so petty but hope it they get the treatment they met at when they reach this age.