Some 337,000 people, or 48 percent of all Germans who retired in 2011, did so before reaching 65 - the highest number ever, according to figures released on Thursday by the Rentenversicherung Bund (DRV), which operates Germany's state pension system.
Health-workers, teachers and truck drivers were among those most likely not to work up to the retirement age of 65, said the DRV. More of those stopping work early were women, the figures suggested, with the share of female early retirees up from 36.1 percent to 51.7 percent in 2011.
Whether the trend is a result of workers opting for a reduced income in return for more leisure time in their 60s is hard to determine, as no definite statistics exist on why people stopped work early. Some workers could have been forced out or encouraged to take early retirement when firms cut jobs.
However, the statistics did show that many workers taking retirement early had been ill or unemployed previously, whereas others had worked up enough money to afford the drop in income.
In general, those retiring early had earned above average salaries while working, while many others had inherited substantial sums.
But it could mean few people receive their full pension in the future, as Germany is in the process of slowly hiking its retirement age to 67.