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It seems like some professors choose to retire, while others love their job so much they don't stop doing it until they die (or have health issues that make them unable to work). Which situation is more common? How common is it for tenured professors to fall into each category?

  • I don't have statistics, but my impression is that the vast majority retire before they die, rather than the other way around. Of course, some remain active in research even after retiring from their job. – Nate Eldredge Feb 22 '15 at 19:14
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    And then there's Professor Binns, the Hogwart's Magical History teacher who didn't notice that he had died, and simply kept on teaching. – mhwombat Feb 22 '15 at 19:24
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    You will have to define "retire" more specifically. Retirement is not a binary state, especially for professors. (See e.g. What academic functions does a Professor Emeritus usually serve?) – ff524 Feb 22 '15 at 19:25
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    This probably varies a lot according to the type of school. Fancy research universities have the phenomenon of "deadwood faculty," who don't do any research, have a light teaching load, and have all their grading done for them. For people who have become deadwood faculty, it would be crazy to retire, given how much they're getting paid in relation to the tiny amount of work they do. OTOH, there can't be any such phenomenon at schools that don't have research, since everyone is teaching some set number of units, which constitutes a lot of work. – Ben Crowell Feb 22 '15 at 20:13
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    Note in some countries there is a mandatory retirement age, so professors don't have a choice. – Kimball Feb 23 '15 at 4:15
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Under US law, since 1993, there is no mandatory retirement age for college faculty. They can keep working as long as they are physically able to work, and many faculty are choosing to work into their 70's and 80's. See this recent article from Inside Higher Education that gives some statistics:

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/08/02/new-study-shows-difficulty-encouraging-professors-retire

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