The Mortality Effects of Retirement: Evidence from Social Security Eligibility at Age 62



This paper examines the link between retirement and health by examining whether mortality changes discontinuously at the Social Security eligibility threshold at age 62. It uses data from the National Center for Health Statistics’ Multiple Cause of Death, the Health and Retirement Study, and the Social Security Master Beneficiary Records and Numident Files. Critical components of the analysis include the regression discontinuity framework and the use of detailed objective health outcomes. Key limitations of our estimates are of the effects on mortality net of any anticipatory changes in health investments, the difficulty in knowing whether the results extend to retirement at ages other than 62, and a lack of available data on other objective health outcomes.

The paper found that:

  • Many individuals decide to claim Social Security as soon as they can after turning age 62.
  • There is a coincident increase in mortality soon after turning 62.
  • The mortality increase is robust for males but not for females.
  • The increase in mortality seems to be more connected to stopping work than to claiming Social Security itself.

The policy implications of the findings are:

  • There may be an increase in mortality risks when people stop work.
  • More research may shed light on the reasons for this and the ways these elevated risks could be reduced.
  • Initiatives and policies that assist people through the transition to retirement may have health benefits.

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