Early retirement in the UK: 13 of the best careers for retiring at 60 or younger - from soldier to electrician

Many of us dream of giving up the day job and retiring early, but how do we make it a reality? Here are some of the jobs with the best prospects of being able to leave the workforce at a younger age.

Retirement can seem like a long way off for many of us. With the UK state pension age rising to 67 in 2028 and more rises likely in the future, the idea of early retirement can seem like a pipe dream.

But for those of us determined to quit work before our late 60s, what careers should we pursue? We’ve taken a look at some of the best jobs in both the public and private sector for people dreaming of becoming a retiree aged 60, 50 or even 40.

The average retirement age in the UK

In the UK, there is no forced retirement age and people can work for as long as they like. The age at which you can retire depends on the size of your pension, which will have to support you for the rest of your life.

Broadly, there are two types of pension: the state pension and workplace pensions. The state pension can only be accessed when you reach a certain age - currently 66 - whereas with workplace pensions there is often more flexibility.

In 2020, the average retirement age was 63.7 for men and 63.2 for women, according to data from the OECD. This average has been rising slowly over the past couple of decades.


The jobs where retirement is early as standard

The public sector was long thought of as a solid option for people wanting to retire early, thanks to pension schemes which began paying out at 60 or sometimes younger.

Now this has changed in most cases and people joining the NHS, civil service or becoming teachers can expect to get their workplace pension at state pension age.

However, there are some physically demanding uniformed services where people retire at a younger age as standard.

Police officer: The normal retirement age for people joining the Police Pension Scheme is 60. This isn’t the case for civilian police staff, however, whose default retirement age is linked to the state pension age.

Armed forces: Members of the armed forces get one of the UK’s most generous pensions according to the UK government, to reflect the “unique sacrifice they have provided their country throughout their career”. The default pension age is 60, having increased by five years in 2015.

Firefighter: The standard pension age for firefighters is also 60.

Save at a higher rate to build a pension pot more quickly

Early retirement isn’t limited to people working in these specific uniformed services. Most people with a workplace pension can choose to retire early if they have built up a large enough pension pot to see them through the rest of their lives.

Many workplace pensions have a default retirement age at around 65, but then offer the option of retiring as early as 55 - although this can differ from scheme to scheme.

However, being able to afford to give up work at this age is another matter entirely. Barring any lottery wins, how can you make sure you have enough money to live off? This will depend on the type of scheme you have.

In the public sector, most retirement plans offer pensions linked to the size of the employee’s salary, either at the end of their career or a career average. Taking early retirement usually means getting a reduced annual pension, so those taking this option may also need to build up savings elsewhere.

In the private sector, most retirement plans are ‘defined contribution’ schemes. This means the amount you get in retirement is based on the size of the pot you build up through your working life, through your own contributions and those from your employer. Increasing your pension contributions while you are working could allow you to retire a few years earlier than usual.

And a small but growing number of people have started looking beyond traditional pension schemes when looking to leave the workforce early.

The so-called FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement has popularised the idea of saving so much money, you can afford to stop working at 50, 40 or even earlier. This usually involves embracing frugal living and building up a large pot of savings and investments on top of your retirement plan, then living off this money before any pension payments begin.

Best careers for early retirement

But which careers are best for those wanting to pursue early retirement by maximising their pension savings? Jobs which lend themselves to this idea are usually those with a high earnings potential and few, if any, years spent in training to qualify at the start of a career.

Electricians could afford to retire at 48, according to ourlifeplanElectricians could afford to retire at 48, according to ourlifeplan
Electricians could afford to retire at 48, according to ourlifeplan

Last year, retirement planning website ourlifeplan.co.uk ran an analysis to find the best careers, in any sector, for those wanting to retire early. The top ten, with potential early retirement ages, were:

  • Commercial manager: 46
  • Taxation expert: 46
  • Construction manager: 46
  • Product manager: 46
  • IT manager: 47
  • Project manager: 47
  • Marketing manager: 47
  • Financial analyst: 48
  • Electrician: 48
  • Programmer analyst: 48

More help with your pension plan

You should always get financial advice before making a decision about how to take your pension pot. You can get free guidance on your retirement savings options from MoneyHelper, run by the Money and Pensions Service.

Its service Pension Wise has information to help you decide what to do with your money if it’s in a ‘defined contribution’ pension. If you are over 50, you can book an appointment to speak to someone.