Are Educated Professionals Cheating Society By Retiring Early?

As much as I hate to think about it, there is something that nags at me. There is obviously a ton of hype around reaching financial independence these days.  It’s nearly impossible to execute a few thumb flicks on any social media app without scrolling past a story about early retirement. The story typically goes something like this. This Millennial or that Gen-Xer worked their butt off during the early years of their career and decided to pull the plug decades before their comparable counterparts. But should they?

You’ll notice that this post is full of questions. But before anyone yells at me, just keep in mind that I wholeheartedly agree with someone’s decision to retire early. But I do love playing devil’s advocate and stirring up a good debate. So, let’s talk about it. Let’s look at some of the reasons that retiring early might not be the best thing to do for someone who is an educated professional in any field.

Is There A Moral Obligation To Society?


As an educated woman who works in the scientific field, I often think about the investment my employer has made in me. My current employer has enhanced my education through graduate school as well as hands on seminars, training, and global travel. Considering all of this, is there a moral obligation on my part to utilize my skill set within this industry, that serves to promote public health?

On another note, when Mr. MMM changed careers from teaching to film it was a terrible loss for his school. He taught for many years and won many awards, including Teacher of the Year. When he left, he had requests from parents to teach their children for years to come. Even though he didn’t leave because he was “retiring early”, the consequences were the same. He was trained to be a teacher and to educate our youth. Was it fair to the rest of us to lose such a great teacher in his prime?

This might not seem like such a big deal now, but what happens when early retirement becomes mainstream *Ahem* – it’s getting there – and the number of early retiree hopefuls skyrockets?

Professional School


What about those individuals that have gone to professional school and still choose to cut out decades early? Some would argue that taking a slot from another student who would continue to work for 30+ years post graduation is selfish. If retiring early is the plan, maybe it’s best to choose an alternative route that isn’t quite so competitive. Chances are, the early retirement date would likely be the same, if not a little earlier without attending professional school.

If you are such an individual, please don’t take offense. I’m simply pondering how the puzzle pieces of early retirement and education fit together. And if you do happen to be such a person, I would LOVE to hear your opinion on this topic.

The Best And The Brightest


I’m going to go out on a reliable limb and say that a large proportion of people with the foresight and motivation to pursue early retirement are likely smarter than the average bear. In which case, can we really afford to lose these bright individuals in any field?

And if we can’t afford to lose these people, what can be done to make working longer in their initial field of study more attractive?

I’m thinking… Higher salaries. Location independence. Less stringent hours. Project-based work.

Are Early Retirees Really Retired?


Mad Money Cat - buying a house

Mad Money Cat skipped professional school and went straight to retirement. #smartkitty

There is also another question that begs to be answered. Are early retirees really retired? Or, have they just bought themselves the option to switch careers?

Let’s face it, most of the stories floating around are about early retirees who bought their freedom from their first career and have crafted a second through entrepreneurship.

And if this is the case, then are these early retirees actually cheating society, or are they contributing to it by becoming a producer in a different way?

What do you think? Is retiring early one way to cheat the system and another way to cheat society? Or, am I being a drama queen? I’d love to hear your take on this phenomenal movement.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • KL Jul 8, 2017, 12:47 pm

    Interesting questions. I’m still early on the journey (and going at it with some stealth, my husband freaks out at the thought but has agreed for me to control our savings and finances), but I’ve actually found curious the attitude around the FI community about work. I think it’s more because FI is the destination so the jobs get overlooked as the means to an end.

    The question of debt for society is a good one though – in my country universities are free so you do want people to keep paying their taxes. (Education is cheaper too though – no fancy facilities needed to lure students.)

    I am one of the people who work for the sake of work – I love my chosen field of work, feel that it’s the most powerful tool at my disposal to actually contribute to the society and can use the knowledge also in other areas (local politics) and would only consider quitting my job for starting a company of my own (which I’ve done too). FI is for me about security and also getting more options, maybe for one more enterprise of my own.

    That said, I doubt many people would actually rest on their laurels. Unless you have a purpose for the years post-job, you’ll either drift or get back to the work force. Maybe more on you own terms. Even retirees apparently live longer if they have something meaningful to do.

    I think we all should and also want to do “our part”. It can be as simple as taking care of the grandkids, or as ambitious as starting a company building renewable energy. Luckily it seems most people seem to understand that.

    • Mad Money Monster Jul 10, 2017, 1:01 pm

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! I completely agree that most retirees live a more fulfilling life if they’re not just sitting around sipping beverages on a beach somewhere.

      As I go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of FI, I find that I’m not actually chasing early retirement. At first, the thought of throwing in the career towel was very enticing, but not, I look forward to just attaining the freedom that comes along with FI. If I choose to change jobs or start my own company, I’ll have the option to do so. If I decide to keep the job I have an enjoy my work and salary, I have the option to do so. THAT is extremely attractive to me.

      Good luck with your journey!

  • Lindsey Teske Jun 18, 2017, 7:53 pm

    On the other side, there are fields where you can only get a position if someone to decides to retire. My sister-in-law is a high achiever in an extremely competitive field and has been verbally promised the job of someone who is planning on retiring next year. People who retire make way for new blood and fresh ideas.
    I think the value of the education invested in you is largely moot in the United States. You invested your TIME, and that is completely nonrefundable.

    • Mad Money Monster Jun 20, 2017, 8:09 pm

      I definitely see your point. And, I definitely don’t think someone who invests their time and money shouldn’t have the option of retiring early should they choose that path. In writing the article, I was focusing more on individuals who retire REALLY early – 30s/40s. But again, to each their own.

  • Teacher Investor Jun 6, 2017, 4:35 pm

    The whole concept of the ‘public good’ is something near and dear to me . . . as a teacher/professor. And frankly, I applaud PF community members that integrate such thinking in their writing (because there’s a streak of some PF work out there that ignores it entirely).

    I struggle with this one . . . and I expect that I will struggle with it until I die. But I also know that I will be a teacher forever — whether that be in a classroom as a professional or working the cash register at small hardware store.

    I talk about this often with my students — identity. It’s important for healthy, well-informed persons to understand who they are . . . I mean, who they are forever. Simply retiring doesn’t alter your identity one bit. For the 18-year old this is long conversation about the difference between — what do you want to be? — as compared to — what do you want to become? Again, great topic! Thanks!

    • Mad Money Monster Jun 7, 2017, 11:34 am

      I do believe the topic warrants discussion, obviously. I also like the point you make about identity. Interestingly, I have worked as a microbiologist for my entire career. As much as I try to ignore it, I think more of my identity is wrapped up in it than I’d like to admit. Hence, I think walking away from it when we hit our “number” would be very difficult. And that’s really not what we plan to do. The more and more we travel along this path, the more we are seeking financial independence – not necessary early retirement.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • MrDoublingDollars Jun 6, 2017, 1:06 am

    Nope, do what you want with your life and don’t look back. Everyone and anyone is 100% replaceable.

    The world is a happier place when everyone is doing what they want to do. (so long as they aren’t harming another)

    • Mad Money Monster Jun 7, 2017, 11:31 am

      That’s an excellent point. I’d much rather have a happy/fulfilled surgeon over one who is just clocking time until the next vacation!

  • Nicoleandmaggie Jun 5, 2017, 2:22 pm

    I firmly believe that it is my responsibility to use my God/nature given gifts (not to mention privilege) to make the world a better place. That could be done through work or outside it.

    I do not necessarily believe that others have the same obligation. And I definitely don’t believe in the “taking a slot” arguments.

    • Mad Money Monster Jun 7, 2017, 11:30 am

      Awesome food for thought! Thanks for the comment!

  • Kyle May 31, 2017, 2:02 pm

    Nah… I think there’s an unspoken implication (however slight it may be) that someone leaving a profession also leaves behind an unfillable void. The number of college graduates is ever increasing, if only due to a higher population, and statistically speaking, SOME of those new grads have to be at least as skilled as the people they replace, right? I’d argue that someone retiring after a long career in the same field is an even bigger loss than an early retiree because they have years of experience to complement their education. If we’ve managed to survive and thrive replacing those traditional retirees, I think we do fine when the line moves a little faster as well. Also, I’d say that early retirees are more likely to be business owners, who have created jobs along the way that might be filled by the traditional folks. Good food for thought, though!

    • Mad Money Monster Jun 7, 2017, 11:26 am

      Yeah…I agree that most early retirees don’t actually retire and are likely to become business owners, etc. Just love talking about this stuff!

  • Steve Poling May 26, 2017, 11:58 pm

    I have a friend who escaped from Cuba over a decade ago. He explained that since the Cuban government paid the expense of his education, they felt he was obligated to stay. If your education was obtained with borrowed funds, then I believe one might be indebted to repay. American professional serfdom is predicated upon repaying student loans that cannot be dispatched through bankruptcy. Since many such loans are tendered by the government, THAT’S what educated professionals OWE to society.

    • Mad Money Monster Jun 7, 2017, 8:41 am

      That’s an interesting perspective. Thanks for your comment.

  • Dads Dollars Debts May 26, 2017, 10:05 am

    I definitely don’t think it is cheating the system. There is a constant conversation about this for doctors. People sit on both sides of the fence.

    If you train, I think you owe society maybe 10 years. I do think the people that bail out without ever practicing medicine are short changing the system. For others, 10 years is enough. There are docs who commit suicide before that. Those people feel trapped and if they had left, maybe they would still be with us.

    Those are my two cents. I will gladly switch careers or go part time when I can. I have already practiced for 5 years, so I am half way to my own marker.

    • Mad Money Monster May 26, 2017, 12:09 pm

      I do agree with the option to pursue financial independence and early retirement. Your point about physicians and burnout is a great one. That is one I hadn’t thought of before and it definitely deserves attention!

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