Research

Early Life Traumas Lead to Early Retirement

little girl choosing and taking book from shelf to readMental illness, obesity, smoking, chronic disease – researchers have been able to connect the dots between an array of stresses early in life and how people will fare as they age.

New research zeroes in on the adversities experienced by children and young adults that ultimately contribute to a premature retirement due to a disability.

The basic finding is not terribly surprising – that life’s financial and social circumstances can lead to disabling conditions that will either nudge, or force, older workers to leave the labor force early.

More remarkable is the exhaustive list of past experiences that can increase that risk.

For example, childhood financial adversity in this study took many forms – an unemployed father, family relocations for financial reasons, or even having few books in the house. People whose families struggled financially when they were children were the most likely to retire prematurely.

The study was based on surveys asking older working people born during the Baby Boom, the Depression, and World War II about stressful or traumatic events experienced in childhood and middle age. The researchers followed them through several years of surveys to determine who retired before turning 62. The early retirees were asked whether a medical condition or chronic disability was either an important reason for leaving the labor force or prevented them from continuing to work altogether.

Added to the childhood traumas are a range of social adversities faced by young and middle-aged adults – the death of a spouse, natural disasters, combat duty, divorce, violence, or having a child addicted to drugs – that also increased the likelihood of early retirements.

Separately, the researchers created an index that tallied the number of stresses each individual accumulates over a lifetime. Experiencing multiple traumas put people at greater risk of retiring due to a disability. The researchers controlled for various factors, such as the father’s education level and race, that might’ve influenced how the workers’ lives turned out.

This study adds important new insight into why some older workers choose to retire early. On a personal level, their welfare is at stake because, as the researchers explain, “early retirement often translates to lower retirement wealth and income.”

To read this study, authored by Amanda Sonnega and Brooke Helppie-McFall, see “The Relationship Between Adverse Experiences over the Life Course and Early Retirement Due to Disability.”

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make 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.

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