ISSUE BRIEF NO. 16
Older Americans Working More, Retiring Less
ANNE SHATTU C K
The percentage of older Americans working for
pay has been growing. Seventeen percent of
men and 9 percent of women age 65 and over
were in the labor force in 1995, but by 2009, 22
percent of men and 13 percent of women were.
Older workers in rural areas are as likely as their
urban or suburban counterparts to be in the
Workers with college degrees, men, and
divorced urban women are more likely to work
past traditional retirement age.
Women with college degrees have shown the
most rapid increase in working at older ages.
Twenty-two percent were working in 2009,
up from 14 percent in 1995.
Most elderly workers work on a part-time basis,
but nearly half of working men and more than
one-third of working women 65 and over work
Rural older workers are less likely to work full-
time, full-year than workers in urban areas.
cross the last half of the twentieth century, a growing
proportion of older working Americans withdrew
from the labor force to spend their later years in
leisure. Our three-part retirement income system—Social
Security, private pensions, and personal savings—along with
health insurance through Medicare, gave rise to retirement as
we know it and contributed to a dramatic decline in poverty
rates among the elderly. In 1959, 35 percent of Americans
over age 65 lived below the poverty level, but by 1990, this
rate had fallen to 12 percent.
In 2008, it stood at 10 percent.
As retirement became a possibility for more Americans,
labor force participation rates of older Americans declined.
±e labor force participation rate of men age 70 and over fell
from 21 percent in 1963 to 11 percent in 1990. ±e rate for
women age 70 and older decreased from 5.9 percent in 1963
to 4.7 percent in 1990.
±e trend toward earlier retirement
occurred despite an increase in longevity over this period.
From 1960 to 1990, the average life expectancy of Americans
at age 65 (both sexes and all races) grew by three years.
the average American was spending more years in retirement
than ever before. For workers retiring at age 62 between 1990
and 1995, men could expect to live another seventeen years,
and women, another twenty-one years.
Since the early 1990s, however, the trend toward earlier
retirement has begun to change. Many older Americans are
staying in the labor force longer. When this change ﬁrst be-
came apparent, it was unclear whether it would be a tempo-
rary halt or a reversal of the decades-long decline in work at
However, recent data indicate that the proportion
of older adults working for pay is still growing. Although the
trend began in the 1990s, the current economic recession
may be an important reason that it continues.