Early Retirement: How Common – Or Rare – Is It?

July 8th, 2018 by 
Golf green which is something an early retiree might care about.

In a recent post, we argued that 55 years old as the early retirement age cutoff in America. In this post, we'll look at how rare early retirement is in the US.

As a preview, 24.29% of current living retirees report retiring before age 56.

Number Retiring by Age of Living American Retirees in 2017

One way to calculate early retirement is to... ask current retirees when they retired!

By taking the entire population of respondents who consider themselves retired, here's the breakdown of when they became early retirees:

Age GroupPercentage of Current RetireesNumber of Current Retirees
Don't Know/Remember11.22%7,483,879

(We include 'Don't Know' and 'Refused' here because there is no easy way to assign them to a category.)

Even with the categories counted, roughly a quarter of all retirees recounted retiring at age 55 or before. A mere .47% and .79% of retirees retired in their early and late 30s, respectively.

Percentage of Current Retirees Retiring in Range in US in 2017
Percentage of Current Retirees Retiring in Range

Note that although the numbers above are accurately portrayed, this probably isn't the best measurement. Consider: A 90 year old may recall retiring at 45 – but that scenario doesn't speak to one's ability to retire early in the current economy.

The next couple of sets look at the number of Americans per age group who retired early and are currently retired.

People In Early Retirement: Age of Early Retirees by Federal Reserve Classification

Another way to gauge early retirement is to look at how old retirees are today.

As we mentioned, economic conditions change. A fairer view of early retirement might come from people who are living as early retirees today.

Here are those results based on Federal Reserve classification:

Age GroupPercentage RetiredEstimated Retired

Data for this post comes from the 2017 Federal Reserve Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED). For every entry in the 2017 SHED, the Federal Reserve classified the respondent as:

  • Working - as a paid employee or self-employed
  • Not working - looking for work, disabled, other, or on temporary layoff
  • (or) Not working - retired

As we discussed in our post on how Americans pay for retirement, some folks take exception to "self-labeled" forms of retirement. This section's classification is the survey's strictest – and is reflected by only 3.71% of 55 and youngers being early retirees.

The next section repeats the same methodology except it allows respondents to self-label as retired.

Number In Early Retirement: Age of Early Retirees Based on Self-Classification

Along with labelling respondents, there was also a question allowing respondents to self-select as retirees. It significantly changes the results; there are enough (super?) extreme early retirees that we are able to look at 18-29 year old retirees.

Age GroupPercentage Retired Estimated Retired

The eye-catching age group here is the – after weighting – 340,000 Americans currently retired before age 30. Also of interest: there are another 1,000,000 Americans who retired before 40 (significantly more than we expected).

Early Retirement by Current Population in America, 2017
Number of Early Retirees in Current US Population, 2017

Other interesting numbers that stand out:

  • 4.44% of 18-55 year old Americans are early retirees
  • An estimated 16.68% of 55 year olds in America in 2017 were retired
  • And roughly 1 in 8 50-54 year old Americans are early retirees

Due to the timing of commonly available government benefits, early retirement (usually) requires considerable resources or alternative streams of income to stop working. 

Conclusions on Early Retirement

There's – of course – some controversy over exactly what the early retirement age really is. We like using 55 years old as our cutoff; early retirement there is a rare thing in America but not unheard of.

To us, the most interesting number was of self-classified living retirees in America.

24.29% retired at age 55 or earlier!

Interestingly, 1.38% of respondents reported retiring by 30. Those numbers don't match the current snapshot, so the economic stories (and health?) of those retirees must be interesting tales.

Any numbers stick out to you? Are these numbers on early retirement rarity roughly where you'd expect?



PK started DQYDJ in 2009 to research and discuss finance and investing and help answer financial questions. He's expanded DQYDJ to build visualizations, calculators, and interactive tools.

PK lives in New Hampshire with his wife, kids, and dog.

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