Early retirement is supposed to give you extra golden years to enjoy. But that may not happen, a new study suggests.

A study of Shell Oil employees shows that people who retire at age 55 and live to be at least 65 die sooner than people who retire at 65. After age 65, the early retirees have a 37 percent higher risk of death than counterparts that retired at 65.

That's not all. People who retire at 55 are 89% more likely to die in the 10 years after retirement than those who retire at 65.

"This difference could not be attributed to the effects of sex, socioeconomic status, or calendar year of the study, although the poorer health status of some early retirees may play some part," note Shan P. Tsai and colleagues at Shell Health Services.

The researchers looked at all past employees of Shell Oil who retired at ages 55, 60, or 65.

"Mortality improved with increasing age at retirement for people from both high and low socioeconomic groups," they found. "Retiring at 65 was not associated with a greater risk of mortality than retiring at 55 or 60."

The findings appear in the online edition of the British Medical Journal.

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SOURCES: Tsai, S.P. British Medical Journal, Online First edition, Oct. 20, 2005.