Retire later, die earlier

By Yeo Toon Joo, Peter

Retire early and die young. That was what I had been led to believe some years ago. But now another study says the later you retire the shorter your life.

Statistics, including Boeing Aerospace’s, support the second conclusion, i.e. people who are still slogging away at the daily grind after 65 usually die within 18 months of retirement. Those, like I, who retire at 55 or earlier, tend to survive into their 80s (see summary of study below).

The study of Boeing’s retirees show that an employee loses on average two years of his life span for every year he remains at work beyond 55!

A report on Optimum Strategies for Creativity and Longevity by Sing Lin, PhD, also quotes Nobel Laureate Dr. Leo Esaki that the most precious, creative and innovative period in a person’s life is during his/her late 20s and early 30s: most Nobel Prize winners did the work that won them their prize at around 32 though it was usually awarded only 10 or 20 years later.

Dr Esaki recommends that we should all plan our career path to use wisely and effectively that precious 10-year window around 32 to produce the greatest works in our life. With age, experience increases but creativity decreases.

Wasn’t that the age (30s) that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, now 83, became prime minister of Singapore?

If you have passed that age without any significant achievement to your name, sorry, my boy, you’ve missed the boat!

So, why are we putting up with an oligarchy of geriatrics in all those high places in the world! Sure, they have lots of experience and wisdom. Yeah, but where’s their oomph?

Let’s take a closer look at the report by Dr Sing Lin, who was in 2002, member of National Council of Chinese Institute of Engineers – USA/Greater New York Chapter, and member of Board of Directors of National Taiwan University Alumni Association – Greater New York.

He has 30 years of experience in research and system engineering work in wireless technologies, and is recipient of the Bellcor Award of Excellence, IBM Fellowship at the University of California and Institution Service Award of the Chinese Institute of Engineers – USA. Some people have questioned his paper on retirement but what he says makes good sense.

Most Creative Years in Life

He quotes Dr. Leo Esaki’s lecture “Innovation and Evolution: Reflections on a Life in Research” delivered at University of Texas at Dallas on Feb. 23, 2002, during the 2002 US National Engineering Week.

Dr. Esaki stated that most of the great discoveries and innovations by the Nobel Laureates occurred at the average age of 32 – the period of peak creativity of most scientists. “It is, therefore, very important to stimulate, encourage and cultivate many young people to get interested in science and engineering at their young age and to provide them the optimal R&D environment.”

Longevity Vs Retirement Age

Here is something noteworthy for Singapore’s Central Provident Fund contributors and CPF administrators: the pension funds, says Dr Sing Lin, in many large corporations, e.g. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, AT&T, Lucent Technologies, have been “over funded” because many “late retirees” who work into their old age and retire after age 65 tend to die within two years of retirement.

“Many of these late retirees do not live long enough to collect their fair share of pension money such that they leave a lot of extra unused money in the pension funds.”

See Table 1 and the associated chart (provided by Dr. Ephrem Siao Chung Cheng, another academic) from an actuarial study of life span vs. age at retirement, based on the number of pension cheques sent to retirees of Boeing Aerospace.

Table 1 and the associated chart below indicate that people who retired at 50 lived on average to 86; while those who retired at 65, lived only to 66.8


An important conclusion: for every year worked beyond 55, one loses on average 2 years of life span.

In the study, Dr Sing Lin says:

“In the Boeing experience employees who retired at age 65 received pension cheques for only 18 months, on average, prior to death. Similarly, Lockheed’s employees who retired at 65 received pension cheques and survived for only 17 months on average. Another researcher, Dr. David T. Chai, indicated that the Bell Labs experience was similar. And so was Ford Motor’s.”

Why they died so soon?

Dr Sing Lin reports that the hard working late retirees probably put too much stress on their aging body and mind and are so stressed out that they develop various serious health problems that force them to retire – and die within two years after that.

But people who take early retirement at age 55 tend to live long and well into their 80s and beyond. “These earlier retirees probably are either wealthier or more able to plan and manage well their life, health and career such that they can afford to retire early and comfortably.

“These early retirees are not really idling after retirement. They still continue doing some work – but on a part-time basis at a more leisure pace so that they do not get too stressed out. Furthermore, they have the luxury to pick and chose the types of part-time work of real interest to them so that they can enjoy and love doing that ‘fun’ work at a more leisurely pace.”


– The most precious, creative and innovative period in your life is the 10-year period around the age of 32.

– With the work place becoming a pressure-cooker and high-speed battleground for highly creative and dynamic young people, you and I should plan our career path and finances so that we can retire comfortably at age 55 or earlier. This way we can enjoy a long, happy and leisurely retirement life, and do some fun part-time work of value to society.

– If you “have” to keep on working very hard until 65 or older, then you probably will die within 18 months of retirement. If you remain in the pressure cooker for 10 more years beyond 55, you give up at least 20 years of your life span.


1. A friend disputed the findings of Dr Sing Lin’s article by citing the case of her ex-boss, a wealthy banker, who worked well beyond his 60s and lived up to 98. Actually he never retired and worked almost to his last breath. You don’t want that, do you?

2. The earlier study I had read in the late 1960s that seemed to contradict Dr Sing Lin’s report had shown that many people, particularly ex-bosses, retired and died shortly after, some within a year. One reason postulated was that some died of a broken heart: they had nobody to boss around or shout at anymore, or had lost their significance or reason for living. That study did not state what age they retired (probably after 60). The trouble with many people, Singaporeans are fast becoming noted for it, is that they instead of working for a living, they work to live, or live to work…and die without work!

3. Mr V Ambiavagar, first Asian deputy director of education in Singapore (I believe he became director), retired at 55, played golf into his 80s, wrote a book in his 80s, collected pension money (though small) for many, many years – and probably did not endear himself to some by his longevity – and died only after 90.

Main picture from vnc2005.

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