Early Life Traumas Lead to Early Retirement, Study Finds

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People retire early for any number of reasons, ranging from growing tired of the grind to building up enough wealth that they no longer need a paycheck to live comfortably. One reason that hasn’t gotten as much attention, however, has to do with mental and physical health, which has proven to be a major contributor to why some people leave the workforce early.

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Research from the Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Center at the University of Michigan found that early childhood trauma — referred to as “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs — can lead to early retirement.

In a study titled “The Relationship Between Adverse Experiences Over the Life Course and Early Retirement Due to Disability,” the authors found evidence that “cumulative adverse life experiences are associated with an increased hazard of early retirement due to disability relative to continued work or retirement for any other reason.”

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For the purposes of the study, ACEs are described as “negative exposures and unfavorable conditions in childhood,” such as growing up poor. These conditions can lead to a whole laundry list of health and behavioral problems, including chronic disease, mental illness, risky behaviors, obesity, smoking and type 2 diabetes.

The cumulative effect of these conditions and behaviors leads many people to retire prematurely. This in turn causes even more risks due to financial problems tied to the loss of income, limited retirement savings, and smaller Social Security checks.

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The study was based on surveys of older working people born during the Baby Boom, the Depression and World War II, according to a blog on the website of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Survey respondents were asked about stressful or traumatic events experienced in childhood and middle age.

Researchers followed respondents through several years of surveys to determine who retired before age 62. 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.

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Researchers also created an index tracking the number of stresses each person accumulates over a lifetime. Multiple traumas put people at greater risk of retiring due to a disability, according to the study.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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