As a rising percentage of our population, “older adults” are influencing the American working world in a number of ways. Retirement has become less predictable and more individualized, leading to larger numbers of older adults remaining in the workforce. In addition, an increasing number of younger employees have aging parents, which can lead to juggling work and caregiving responsibilities. A 2014 National Study of Employers sees this new multigenerational workforce as a catalyst for changes in workplace practices. In order to maintain effectiveness, companies must “recognize that employees’ personal and professional lives are both sources of strength and challenges that can affect work outcomes” (p. 56). The employment sector must make some adjustments in order to successfully coexist with an aging world.
For those age 65 and older, the labor force participation rate (those who were employed or seeking employment) steadily decreased from the 1940’s until it reached historic lows in the mid 1980’s to early 1990’s. This trend was influenced by the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935, by which individuals became eligible to receive benefits at age 65. This randomly assigned age developed into an expected and even mandatory age for retirement until 1978, when an amendment to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act increased the earliest legal age for mandatory retirement to 70. In 1986, a mandatory retirement age was mostly eliminated (a few exceptions, such as airline pilots, still exist).
According to the Center on Aging and Work, several different surveys have consistently found that 70-80% of workers age 50 and older expect to continue working past “retirement age.” In a 2013 survey by the Associated Press, the primary factors that influenced the decision to retire, listed in order of importance, included finances, health, the need for benefits, the ability to perform the job, and job satisfaction. The desire for additional free time and the retirement plans of spouses were found to be less important. A 2013 AARP study of workers aged 45-74 who planned to work in retirement found that 31 percent of them cited enjoyment of the job as the primary reason for continuing to work, followed closely by 30 percent who cited financial reasons for continuing. Another 21 percent wanted something interesting to do, and 14 percent thought working would help them stay physically active.
While many older workers plan to delay full retirement, situations sometimes arise which can change these plans. A decline in health status is the most common reason that some leave the workforce before they expected to, while changes at their employer (such as closure or downsizing) ranks second. Additional causes of earlier than planned retirement include becoming the caregiver for a spouse or other family member, changes in the skills required for the work, and other job-related reasons. Fewer people decide to retire earlier for positive reasons such as financial stability or the desire to try something different.
Those who continue working during their older years may choose to stay with their current employer or explore an encore career or “bridge” job. Job enjoyment (80 percent), good work-life fit (76 percent), benefits (66 percent), and feeling connected to the organization (63 percent) are the top reasons given by workers age 55 and older who choose to stay with their current employers (American Psychological Association Workforce Retention Survey, 2012). A “bridge” job can provide an opportunity for some people to ease into retirement through reduced hours and less stressful responsibilities. However, those with or without ongoing financial needs who are seeking a new challenge and have a desire to “give back” may decide to try an encore career. Civic Ventures, an organization that supports career opportunities for older workers, defines an “encore career” as providing “personal fulfillment, social impact, and continued income, enabling people to put their passion to work for the greater good.” Marc Freeman, founder of the company Encore (www.encore.org), sees great potential in those who are in mid-life and their senior years to utilize their talents, wisdom, skill and experience to help solve some of the challenges that face not only American society but also communities around the world. He states, “It’s time to focus on enriching lives, not just lengthening them; on providing purpose and productivity, not just perpetuity.” Entrepreneurship is a great example of older workers’ attempts to accept challenge and to remain productive. Americans aged 55-64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those age 20-24 for every year from 1996-2007 (Kauffman Foundation, 2009).
We can see the changing attitudes of individuals and social thinkers toward employment in the later years of life, but are employers keeping up with these changes? What about the effects of an aging population on family caregivers and their employment? As we approach Labor Day, we will continue to explore these issues.
Karen Kaslow, RN