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Employment of Older Workers - Looking Ahead

age aging job social differences labor retirement force social

Because the population as a whole is aging, we can expect that the pool of employed or potentially employed people will also age during the first decades of the twenty-first century. Projections of the labor force suggest that the median age of the labor force in the year 2008 will be almost forty years—higher than any time since the early 1960s (Fullerton, 1999a). This does not necessarily mean that the labor force participation rate of men and women in their sixties or seventies will increase. Whether individuals in these age groups choose to participate in the labor force in the future will be determined by their individual characteristics that drive employment choices, as well as by the changing policy environment within which those choices are made.

Older individuals decide whether or not to work based on their need for continued income or other resources generated through work, their physical ability to continue working, and the attractiveness of their work opportunities as compared to other activities. We can expect that individual decisions will continue to be made on these bases, although each cohort will bring a somewhat different mix of resources and characteristics to the decision-making process. For example, people in their sixties at the start of the twenty-first century are in better health than were earlier cohorts, making continued employment a more realistic option for many. People who reach later life in good health, but with inadequate nonwork economic resources, will be attracted to continued work, or returns to work. Late-life employment will be especially likely if employers offer attractive and flexible job opportunities to older workers.

These individual decisions are made within a policy environment that shapes employment and retirement decisions. For example, the age at which full Social Security benefits may be received began to increase in the year 2000. In addition, in the spring of 2000, Congress lifted the earnings cap for retirees aged sixty-five to sixty-nine, meaning that individuals in this age range can earn as much income as they are able without having their Social Security benefits reduced. These actions may cause some older individuals to remain working for longer periods of time, especially those with few private nonwork resources. It seems likely, however, that employment will continue to occur among only those segments of the older population who find employment a particularly appealing alternative to unpaid activities, as well as those with ongoing needs for wage income.

JAN E. MUTCHLER

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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FULLERTON, H. N., JR. "Labor Force Projections to 2008: Steady Growth and Changing Composition." Monthly Labor Review 11 (1999a): 19–32.

FULLERTON, H. N., JR. "Labor Force Participation: 75 Years of Change, 1950–98 and 1998–2025." Monthly Labor Review 12 (1999b): 3–12.

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MUTCHLER, J. E.; BURR, J. A.; PIENTA, A. M.; and MASSAGLI, M. P. "Pathways to Labor Force Exit: Work Transitions and Work Instability." Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences 52B (1997): S4–S12.

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PIENTA, A.; BURR, J. A.; and MUTCHLER, J. E. "Women's Labor Force Participation in Later Life: The Effects of Early Work and Family Experience." Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences 49 (1994): S231–S239.

QUADAGNO, J., and HARDY, M. "Work and Retirement." In Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences, 4th ed. Edited by R. Binstock and L. George. New York: Academic Press, 1996. Pages 325–345.

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