As many of you may know, I am intrigued with the subject of human longevity. I find it interesting to study why some people live long and active lives, while others depart this life earlier than planned. Certainly, in my own family, I watched my wife’s amazing grandmother who lived to age 104. My father, who died in June at the age of 89, drew Social Security retirement benefits for over a quarter of a century! What a life he experienced! From his youth during the Great Depression, to serving in World War II, and then following the American Dream through a 40-year career, Dad truly embodied what those of the “Greatest Generation” were about.
A study published a couple of years ago by the Health Services Division of Shell Oil Company examined the lives of retirees after they leave the workplace. Conventional wisdom has usually sided with the impression that those who retire the earliest—those between 55 to 60 years of age, live longer than those who retire later. Wrong. According to this study, there is no prevailing evidence that early retirees enjoyed increased longevity than those who continue working.
Reuters Health Information reported that long-term survival rates also improve by increasing the age of retirement for both high-income as well as low-income groups. It has long been thought that the less stressful and more relaxed lifestyle associated with early retirement would allow people to live longer. In fact, the opposite was found to be true.
The Shell report actually reported that those who retired at age 55 had a significantly higher mortality rate than those who retired at 65. Reuters also found that the death rate was nearly two times higher in the first 10 years after early retirement at age 55, compared with those who kept working. Those who retired at 60 to 65 had similar survival rates.
Living life with purpose
The older I get, the more I understand the value of having a cause or purpose in life. Certainly, we all know of those who dislike their work and dread going to the office so much that it starts to wreck their health. But I see a corollary to linking having purpose in one’s life with longevity. And in fact, if you study your own genealogical background, you will find that most ancestors who lived 100 to 150 years ago basically worked until they died.
Despite hardships, many lived remarkably long and productive lives without the benefits of modern medicine. For these ancestors, there was no recognized retirement other than children stepping in to manage the farm or store if they developed poor health. And 100 to 150 years ago, many children lived close to their parents, which is not the case today.
What was it that kept them alive and active enough to experience life to a ripe old age? Could it have been the emotional support provided through large families so prevalent in those days? Or could it have been linked to these forbearers finding a purpose to their life’s journey? There is no definitive answer here, but it bears thought.
I suspect the Shell and Reuter’s studies point out the fact that finding purpose in life’s work is good nutrition for both the body and soul, and they validate the fact that a certain level of stress, when directed in the proper manner, allows our bodies to function at the speed and capacity in which great tasks can be accomplished.
My own maternal grandfather, Ike Stone, was a clear example of that. He practiced law in Coffeeville until he was 80 years old and found great fulfillment in his work--particularly in the arena he loved most--the courtroom. He enjoyed his work each day to the end of his life. While I’m sure he encountered his share of stress and worked for many long hours to maintain his practice, he seemed focused on directing his life’s work towards a higher purpose. Perhaps we should all lead our lives with a little more purpose.
Doing so might help us enjoy a longer stay here on earth, as well.
By Ike S. Trotter, CLU, ChFC
Ike S. Trotter, CLU, ChFC, is a financial advisor with the Ike Trotter Agency, LLC, in Greenville, Mississippi, and a member of Advisor Today’s Editorial Advisory Council. Contact him at 662-378-9550 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.