Police officers, head teachers and cabin crew are amongst the jobs most likely to see an early retirement, census data reveals.
But how early can you expect to retire in your profession?
Analysis of figures published by the Office for National Statistics showed as many as one in five senior police officers have retired by age 55, aided by a generous pension and the physical demands of the jobs.
And they are not alone.
The table below ranks occupations by the percentage of workers that retired early – and you can search to see how your line of work compares.
Unsurprisingly, the jobs where people are most likely to have retired earlier in life are overwhelmingly in the public sector – where pensions are typically far more generous than those offered by private sector employers – and physical in nature.
At the opposite end of the scale, those in trades such as roofing and painting, are far less likely to be retired before the state pension kicks in at 66. Self-employed professions in general languish towards the bottom of the table, mainly because they are far less likely to have private pensions or other long-term savings.
The ONS has previously said changes made by the Home Office to the police pension scheme in 2015 could be fuelling the high proportion of officers quitting the force.
Even among more junior police officers, analysis of ONS data found that 14.5pc of those aged 50 to 54 also stopped work in 2021, which was the second-highest share of any job cohort in the country.
Similarly, around one in ten fire officers and some military ranks have also retired a decade before the state pension age kicks in.
Brokers top the rank of white-collar workers retiring early, with around one in 20 being in retirement between the ages of 50 to 54. This figure jumps to one in seven by age 60.
Meanwhile, farmers and cabbies aged between 60 and 64 are among the roles least likely to be in retirement, with fewer than 10pc doing so.
Those least likely to retire early were predominantly self-employed, such as tradespeople, housekeepers, dancers and musicians.
Before the pandemic, roughly five million people were freelance or ran their own businesses – accounting for nearly 15pc of the workforce. But a year on from the first lockdown, numbers plummeted to around 4.3 million. The sudden removal of work during the Covid lockdowns encouraged the self-employed to turn to the perceived safety of an employer.
Less than a third of freelancers pay into a pension, according to IPSE, a trade body for freelance workers. Government plans to auto-enrol self-employed workers were shelved, leaving freelancers to their own devices when saving for a pension.
However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank warned that many of the self-employed who save into a private pension rarely change the cash contributions they make. Nearly half stick with exactly the same amount over two years, and 23pc are still saving the same amount in cash terms nine years later.
It added that freelancers risked being left with a shortfall of almost £250,000 in retirement as a result.
At this point, almost two-thirds of teachers and around half of midwives are retired, suggesting many public sector professionals have the scope to retire in their early sixties.
The figures show that on census day, there were 50,055 workers aged between 50 and 54 who classified themselves as retired. This equated to around 1pc of adults in this age group.
Retirees jumped to 259,000 within the next five years, around 7pc of the age group, before reaching 23pc for adults in their early sixties.
The poverty gap
Earlier this year, the IFS claimed that almost 390,000 people who took early retirement during the onset of the pandemic had fallen into poverty.
A report by the think tank found around half of those aged 50 to 70 who left the workforce in 2020-21 ended up living in “relative poverty” because of “labour market disruptions or health concerns”. This means their annual income is less than 60pc of the average household – or around £15,400 for a childless couple.
However, the IFS said the majority of early retirees were “forced” into leaving work due to health concerns at the start of the pandemic, challenging the perception that departures from the labour market during the pandemic “were driven by wealthy individuals who could afford to retire in comfort”.
The state pension age is currently 66 years old, but will eventually rise to 68 according to the government timetable. This means that people who retire before then will need to rely on income other than the state pension. Private pensions are accessible from the age of 55, though this age too will rise – to 57 and potentially even higher.
Police officers, and some other physically demanding professions, have lower pension ages. Pensions for officers were originally designed for retirement at 50 but changes in 2015 extended this to 60 years of age. It also meant that previously accrued pension savings were protected while future contributions were reduced.
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