Americans Getting Sicker and Dying Sooner, While Retiring Later

For generations, the life expectancy in the United States was getting higher, and people were enjoying long and healthy retirements. That number hit a snag back in 2005 when the age-adjusted mortality rate jumped for the first time in years, and now it turns out that the year-to-year mortality rate is rising once again.

Life expectancy has leveled out in recent years, as well, and the average age for retirement continues to get higher, making retirement much shorter for this generation. Even the age for Social Security is set to rise in 2027, and it’s estimated that nearly 33 percent of Americans are still working after age 65, and nearly 20 percent are working past their 70th birthday. While this does give more money for retirement, many are working so they can simply survive.

A study by the University of Michigan determined these disheartening numbers, which even say that people between 55 and 59 years of age are also suffering from more severe illnesses. This includes diseases that affect daily activities that include even the most basic of functions. The amount of 66 year olds with these types of illnesses has risen by nearly four percent in recent years.

Dementia and other cognitive diseases are on the rise, too, with 11 percent of people aged 58 to 60 suffering from these diseases, while those who are already at the retirement age checking in at 9.5 percent. There have been many different factors that have been blamed for these numbers, including a higher rate of obesity or suicide, as well as higher use of drugs. Then again, some of these factors may be offset by a decline in alcohol or tobacco use, as well as an increase in medicinal technology.

Now, it’s being conducted that the average American isn’t retiring until the age of 63. That’s quite high compared to other countries such as China at 55-years-old and the United Arab Emirates at 55-years-old. One economics professor, Arie Kapteyn, says that the retirement age is rising because in developed countries such as the United States, “People are getting healthier, they live longer. Therefore they need to be supported for a longer period and at some point, that just becomes unsustainable.”

However, this study from the University of Michigan wouldn’t agree. With health care costs going through the roof and people working later, it’s having an effect on overall health. There’s also societal pressure to not use government money to get through retirement, while wages have also not increased despite increased retirement age. Some experts are even saying that people should work until they’re 70-years-old, though not all are in agreement.

Another factor for those retiring later also sees education come into play. There was a time in the 1970s when having a college degree wasn’t all that important, and those with a high school diploma were still making 85 percent of their college-graduate counterparts. That number has dropped to nearly 50 percent over the years, and it’s hard to make up for that later in life. Some have chosen to go back to school, but with rising tuition costs, many are hoping to avoid the massive debt that college would bring.

Manufacturing jobs leaving the United States has dropped to around 12 million in the United States, compared to nearly 20 million at the start of the 1980s. Those that were in the industry have had to find other lower-paying jobs that force them to work longer. Economist John McLaren says that “If you were a blue-collar worker at the end of the 1990s and your wages are 17 percent lower than they could have been, that could be a disaster for your family.”

Michael Kramer of Emory University says that the job market should be shouldering some of the blame for Americans dying at a younger age. “We might be seeing the drag that decades of stagnant wages, growing inequality and the associated behavioral (smoking, overeating) and psychosocial (anxiety, depression) factors have on eventual mortality,” he said. “The US has higher income inequality and less comprehensive social safety net, so the ill-effects on poverty may take an undo toll.”

One study by Jason Beckfield and Clare Bambra showed that US citizens would be able to increase their life expectancy by an average of 3.77 years if the country had the average welfare state to that of European countries. These numbers are certain to keep the debate going about health care, government assistance and retirement for years to come. For many, these topics have been the biggest aspect of deciding on who to vote for in elections, though bipartisan work needs to be done to fix these growing problems.