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More older people choose to keep working
The Providence Journal


August 05, 2008

The number of older workers in the work force age 65 and higher has been rising since 1977, and the trend is expected to accelerate at least through 2016. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics examines the issue in the "spotlight on statistics" feature found on its Web site,

Since 1977, employment of workers 65 and over increased 101 percent, compared with 59 percent for all workers 16 and over. The increase was more pronounced among women (147 percent) than men (75 percent). According to the bureau, this trend does not simply reflect the aging of the baby boom generation, since as of last year the leading edge of the baby boomers -- born between 1946 and 1964 -- had not yet turned 65. That's coming in 2011.

The trend is expected to continue. From 2006 to 2016, the overall labor force is projected to increase by 8.5 percent. When analyzed by age categories, the increase is heavily weighted to the grayer part of the population -- a 36.5-percent increase among workers 55 to 64, an 83.4-percent increase for workers 65 to 74, and an 84.3-percent increase among workers 75 and older.

The latter figure needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Although the percentage increase is dramatic, the actual number of workers over 75 remains quite small, only 0.8 percent of those employed last year.

Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Center of Aging and Work at Boston College, said there are two sets of reasons to explain the increase in older workers.

When it comes to money, she said, many people simply have not saved enough to retire at 62 or 65, particularly when retirement stretches out for 20 years and more. With the current inflationary pressures on expenses such as food and gas, that's more true now than ever . She also pointed out that many people at retirement age are facing additional financial pressures to care for dependent relatives at both ends of the spectrum -- aging parents and college-age children.

Pitt-Catsouphes said there are essentially three sources for income after 65: Social Security, retirement savings plans and earned income. The easiest one to increase is income, which means continuing to work.

Financial uncertainty in retirement has been increased by a widespread change in retirement plans, from defined benefit plans, in which companies promise a specified amount in retirement benefits, to defined contribution plans, in which companies promise to contribute a certain amount, but make no guarantees of the payout.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a chart that shows the percentage of workers covered by defined benefit plans dropping from 32 percent in 1992-1993 to 20 percent last year. "For more and more workers, this means that risk -- in terms of steady retirement income -- has been transferred from the employer to eventual retiree," the BLS said on its Web site.

Pitt-Catsouphes said a second set of reasons to explain why older people remain in the work force is a different set of attitudes about both age and work. Many people are feeling relatively fit and healthy in their 60s and 70s, and don't see any physical reason to retire. And, for many, work is an important part of their identity. "They don't feel as though they are done yet," Pitt-Catsouphes said.

This doesn't necessarily mean that older workers want to remain in the same jobs. The idea of "encore careers," in which older workers look for different work, often in the nonprofit sector, is a relatively new idea that has been gaining ground.

The Bureau of Labor statistics also found that more workers over 65 are working full time. That represents a turnaround over the past 30 years. From 1977 to 1990, the ratio remained relatively stable, with about 49 percent of older workers working full time, and 51 percent working part time. That gap widened considerably in the early 90's, until by 1995 around 44 percent were working full time and 56 were working part time.

Then the trends abruptly reversed themselves, and last year the Bureau of Labor Statistics found only 44 percent of the older workforce was working part time and 56 percent were working full time.


E-mail Andy Smith at asmith(at)
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