April 18, 2010
Trend Toward Working More Years

RAND Corporation researchers predict the trend toward delayed retirement will accelerate.

After more than a century of decline, the number of older American men and women in the workforce began to rise modestly during the 1990s. While about 17 percent of Americans aged 65 to 75 were employed in 1990, the proportion is expected to rise to 25 percent in 2010. A jump in employment among those aged 75 and older also has been seen.

Despite the steady increase in employment among older Americans, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the trend will begin to flatten this year for men aged 65 to 74 and by 2020 for men age 75 and older. The agency predicts a similar plateau for women beginning in 2020.

But RAND researchers say the forces that are causing people to delay retirement or reenter the workforce are strong enough to propel the current trend forward until at least 2030.

The impetus to work longer is going to grow because governments have overpromised on old age benefits and are going to be too poor to deliver. The tax increases needed to make good on all those promises would be too large and would elicit too much opposition among those still working. So I expect retirement ages to be raised and benefits cut. My advice: plan your career so that you have a path that'll allow you to keep working at a bearable job until you are 70 or older.

Office jobs are easier for aging bodies and since more people are doing office jobs more can keep working. Working in one's 60s is a lot harder to do in construction. I know guys having a hard time with construction in their 50s due to work injuries.

A principal reason why retirement rates have dropped is because of an evolution in the skill composition of the nation's workforce, according to the study. As American workers have gained more education, they have achieved jobs that are more fulfilling, they face fewer physical demands in the workplace and they are paid more for their efforts.

Adding to this phenomenon is the rise in the number of dual-earner families. Since couples tend to retire together and men often are older than their spouse, men may stay in the work force longer to accommodate their wives' work lives, according to the study.

Once stem cell therapies, gene therapies, routine growth of replacement organs, and other rejuvenation therapies hit the market the resulting increase in life expectancy will require much longer participation in the workforce. I expect many such therapies to hit the market in the next 20 years. Therefore current projections for life expectancies strike me as overly pessimistic. Time to start planning for a longer life.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 April 18 09:44 AM  Aging Trends

PacRim Jim said at April 18, 2010 2:55 PM:

I'm building a retirement coffin. I plan to spend many years relaxing there.

fwood1 said at April 18, 2010 3:01 PM:

It's great that all of these life extending treatments will hit the market in 20 years. The only problem is, I remember reading the same prediction...20 years ago.

JAY said at April 18, 2010 5:54 PM:

Office jobs aren't in the office anymore. Older people, and young ones for that matter, can work from anywhere. This is a great convenience for the young and an absolute game changer for older workers. Commuting is hard on everyone but especially hard on older workers who don't like public transportation or driving in rush hour traffic. Telecommuting will keep older workers in the work force for ever longer periods of time.

Jake said at April 18, 2010 7:22 PM:

I think this is a healthy trend. A retiree can expect to live another 25 or 30 years upon stopping work. I am not sure humans were designed to spend so many years not working.

Mthson said at April 18, 2010 9:04 PM:

The more money I have whenever I'm diagnosed with a serious illness, the more comfortable I'll be with my chances... if we have the capital, treatments can sometimes be developed on demand, like in Extraordinary Measures, that recent Harrison Ford and Brendan Frasier movie based on a true story.

Lono said at April 19, 2010 7:59 AM:

Randall and Mthson,

There is no doubt that man was designed to work - one can even wax spiritual and philosophical about that - but I think the well documented positive correlation between gainful activity and longevity is well established.

However - imho - what we are really seeing right now is not the useful elongation of Human health - with its corresponding delays in retirement levels - but rather the exploitation of Humanity due to rampant Globalism and Socialism across many countries on the planet.

Essentially Government and Industry are teaming up to create central banking systems that privatize the profits and socialize the losses of business and government everywhere.

More and more formerly wealthy and nationalistic countries - like America - are essentially being turned into worker dystopias like that seen in China.

It is no surprise that many of the same names and wealthy interests pop up again and again in areas where this transformation is accelerating.

We are essentially entering a new age of Robber Baron's - however this time on a Global Scale.

I'm not saying it isn't an elegant solution for creating a logically inevitable one-world government and a manageable artificially imposed economic cast system - I'm just saying it is definitely to the average citizen's detriment to buy into such a system.

Obviously - at some point in an advanced society - some form of socialism will occur to provide a safety net for those who can't or won't work within the economic system - a basic protection for man's needs - and this does pull from the average worker - but that can still benefit society at large - where simply providing corporate welfare - at the expense of society - does little to advance the Human race.

So what I am saying is don't buy into the hype that this is progress - for it is not - it's explotation pure and simple - now increasing tele-presence - automation - and improved conditions and standard of living for the average citizen - those are the fruits you will see of a truly progressive nation!

I do not see any positive signs like that in America - I only see the death rattles of a once strong and proud nation - as the current Kleptocracy sells us out to Globalist institutions and bankrupts our economy for the benefit of the few - or the one.

It's time for citizens everywhere to stand up and shout as loud as you can "I'm MAD AS HELL and I'm not going to take it ANYMORE!!!"

Matt Metcalf said at April 19, 2010 9:19 AM:

On the plus side, working longer means more time to save for retirement.

Nick G said at April 19, 2010 9:27 AM:

Disability rates have fallen sharply in the last 30 years: older people are healthier and more able to be productive.

It just makes sense to retire later than we used to. Heck, probably the whole concept of retirement doesn't make sense: it was pretty much a way to take care of the disabled elderly. It probably makes more sense just to have a comprehensive system of disability insurance - like the current Social Security Disability, but greatly expanded. If it worked well enough (meaning medical diagnosis of disability advanced to the point that you could eliminate fraud, allowind benefits to be high enough to really take care of people), you could just get rid of retirement entirely.

Michael B. said at April 19, 2010 10:37 AM:

This trend might be a great thing. Soon, there will be too many retirees collecting social security and Medicare and not enough workers paying into them. This will make the programs extremely insolvent and in order to pay for the programs as they are, the federal government will have to more than double existing income tax rates. This might help a little bit toward staving off that insolvency.

Jonathan said at April 19, 2010 1:52 PM:

I am working and saving with the assumption that there will be no federal retirement assistance for me whatsoever. I imagine that I (30 years old now) will keep paying into it until it is bankrupt in a few decades. I also don't plan on ever retiring though.

Randall Parker said at April 19, 2010 6:53 PM:

Nick G, There are signs that disability in old age is on the rise.

Another recent study found a rise in the incidence of disability among the middle aged. Rising obesity is probably a contributing factor.

The proportion of older middle-aged Americans who report disabilities related to mobility increased significantly from 1997 to 2007, in contrast to the disability decline that has been found among Americans ages 65 and over, according to a new study by the RAND Corporation and the University of Michigan.

Researchers found a rise in the proportion of Americans aged 50 to 64 who reported mobility-related difficulties or the need for help in daily personal care activities such as getting out of bed, according to findings published in the April edition of the journal Health Affairs.

The reason for the increase is not clear, although many of those reporting disabilities say they are due to health problems that began in their 30s and 40s.

"Although the overall rate of needing help with personal care among this group remains very low -- less than 2 percent -- this rise in disability is reason for concern," said Linda Martin, the study's lead author and a senior fellow at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "It does not bode well for future trends for the 65 and older population, plus there are substantial personal and societal costs of caring for people of any age who need help."

Randall Parker said at April 19, 2010 6:57 PM:

Obesity might cut life expectancies in the generation after the baby boomers.

Ann Arbor, Mich. It was a provocative prediction that due to the obesity epidemic Baby Boomers may outlive their children.

But a new study by the University of Michigan Health System on obesity trends shows Americans are getting heavier younger and carrying the extra weight for longer periods over their lifetime.

As a result, the study suggests the impact on chronic diseases and life expectancy may be worse than previously thought. The findings will be published April 12 in the International Journal of Obesity.

In the Journal, researchers report that 20 percent of those born 1966-1985 were obese by ages 20-29. Among their parents, those born 1946-1955, that level of obesity was not reached until ages 30-39, not until ages 40-49 for individuals born between1936-1945, and obesity prevalence was even later during the 50's for those born between 1926-1935.

Randall Parker said at April 19, 2010 6:59 PM:

Obesity is especially a cause of health problems among women.

CHICAGO Obesity and arthritis that take root during early and middle age significantly contribute to women's decreased quality of life during their senior years, according to researchers at Duke University Medical Center.

In a study that included 5,888 people over 65, women suffered up to two and a half times more disabilities than men of the same age.

Higher rates of obesity and arthritis among these women explained up to 48 percent of the gender gap in disability above all other common chronic health conditions.

"While women tend to live longer than men, this study shows that they are at greater risk of living with disability and much of the excess disability is attributable to higher rates of obesity and arthritis," said Heather Whitson, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and lead investigator of the study presented today at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Geriatrics Society. "This is important because it suggests that women's tendency to pack on extra pounds in their child-bearing and peri-menopausal years translates into loss of independence in their old age."

Lawrence said at April 20, 2010 12:16 PM:

Lono said: "It's time for citizens everywhere to stand up and shout as loud as you can "I'm MAD AS HELL and I'm not going to take it ANYMORE!!!"

Tea Party anyone?

Lono said at April 20, 2010 2:06 PM:


Well - when the Tea Party was a populist movement of Libertarians and Ron Paul Conservatives I'd say yes - that's true.

When the insidious twin geniuses of Sarah Palin and Glen Beck co-opted it and turned it into a typical GOP wank fest - not so much...

Grass roots movements don't get very far in America any more because as a whole the citizenry is apathetic and purely reactionary - and it is soo easy to just turn up the heat gradualy enough that the average sheep doesn't notice how very hot their complementary bath has become.

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