This study with co-author Samuel Williamson looks at the effect of income on survival after retirement in the early 20th century. In 1900 the Pennsylvania Railroad, which was one of the largest employers in the U.S., imposed mandatory retirement on its employees at age 70. Workers could retire as early as age 65 if they were disabled or had the approval of supervisors. The railroad employed a very diverse workforce, and even managers and executives were covered by the retirement program. Since retirement records include information about wages, we can ask whether income and mortality were correlated before the advent of effective medical treatment. We find that early retirement was most common among workers with the lowest pre-retirement income as well as certain well-paid occupations like conductor and engineer. Mortality after age 70 was inversely related to income; higher-paid workers had longer lives after retirement.
George Alter is research professor in the Institute for Social Research and Professor of History at the University of Michigan (United States).