Early Retirement and
Exploring the Impact
Rena M. Conti, Ernst R. Berndt, and Richard G. Frank
Later middle age is a time of economic stability for most people. This period also begins the transition to reduced health and less active work. The impact of health events in later middle age on employment choices and other indicators of economic well-being has been the focus of a number of recent economic studies (Dwyer and Mitchell 1999; Ettner and Kessler 1997; Ettner 2000; Panzarino 1998; Lerner et al. 2004; Lerner, Berndt, and Adler 2004). This work has contributed to explaining declines in disability associated with later middle age.1
The impact of mental health on activities of people in later middle age has been less extensively studied. Evidence suggests that mental disorders negatively affect labor market activity in both men and women (Ettner and Kessler 1997). Mental health may also affect an individual's ability to re-
Rena M. Conti is an instructor in Health Policy and Health Economics, Biological Sciences
Division, University of Chicago. Ernst R. Berndt is the Louis B. Seley Professor of Applied
Economics at the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and
director of the program on Technological Progress and Productivity Measurement at the Na-
tional Bureau of Economic Research. Richard G. Frank is the Margaret T. Morris Professor
of Health Economics at Harvard University Medical School, and a research associate of the
National Bureau of Economic Research.
The authors gratefully acknowledge research support from the Mary Woodard Lasker
Charitable Trust and the Michael E. DeBakey Foundation, the National Institute of Aging
grants P30 AG12810 and R01 AG19805, and the National Institute of Mental Health (Conti,
Frank). The authors are also grateful to David Cutler, Tom McGuire, Joseph Newhouse,
Health Policy Research Seminar participants at Harvard University, and members of the
NBER Disability Group for helpful comments and suggestions.
1. Most recent work has focused on declining disabilities and improved health among
Americans sixty years and older (Cutler 2001; Manton and Gu 2001). A handful of studies
have documented declining disability among Americans fifty years and older (Freedman,
Martin, and Schoeni 2002; Freedman and Martin 1998; Freedman and Martin 1999). For raw
trends see National Center for Health Statistics, 2003.