Working and Retirement: New Options for Older Adults

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Working and Retirement: New Options for Older Adults

Americans head off to their jobs each day as much for daily meaning as for daily bread.
Studs Terkel, Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel about What They Do

Historically, Americans aged sixty-five and older have made substantial contributions to society. Examples of accomplished older adults include:

  • Benjamin Franklin (17061790)writer, scientist, inventor, and statesmanhelped draft the Declaration of Independence at age seventy.
  • Thomas Alva Edison (18471931) worked on inventions, including the lightbulb, the microphone, and the phonograph, until his death at the age of eighty-four.
  • Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (19061992), one of the early computer scientists and a coauthor of the computer language COBOL, maintained an active speaking and consulting schedule until her death at age eighty-five.
  • Margaret Mead (19011978), the noted anthropologist, returned to New Guinea when she was seventy-two and exhausted a much younger television film crew as they tried to keep up with her.
  • Albert Einstein (18791955), who formulated the theory of relativity, was working on a unifying theory of the universe when he died at age seventy-six.
  • Georgia O'Keeffe (18871986) created masterful paintings when she was more than eighty years of age.
  • Older adults continue to play vital roles in industry, government, and the arts. Notable examples include:
  • Former senator John H. Glenn Jr. (1921), who piloted the first manned U.S. spacecraft to orbit Earth, returned to space at age seventy-seven as a payload specialist.
  • Alan Greenspan (1926) oversaw the U.S. economy from 1987 to 2006 as the Federal Reserve chairman.
  • U.S. Senator John McCain (1936), a Republican from Arizona, who at age sixty-eight was elected in 2004 to a fourth term as senator. In 2007, he announced that he would be running for president.
  • Madeleine Albright (1937), U.S. Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001, currently is president of the Truman Scholarship Foundation, chairperson for both the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and Council of Women World Leaders Women's Ministerial Initiative. She also serves as co-chair for the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor and the Pew Global Attitudes Project.
  • James Watson (1928), best known for his discovery of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, served as the chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York until 2007, the year he turned seventy-nine.
  • Paul Newman (1925), the legendary actor and race car driver, turned eighty-two in 2007 and is still working in the entertainment industry and driving fast cars.
  • Nancy Pelosi (1940), a Democratic congresswoman from the state of California, became the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2007. She is the first woman to hold that position.


Retirement in the United States is usually defined by two actions: withdrawal from the paid labor force and receipt of income from pension plans, Social Security, or other retirement plans. There are, however, many people who may be viewed as retired, even though they do not fulfill the criteria of the generally accepted definition of retirement. For example, workers who retire from the military or other federal employment, which provide pension benefits after twenty years of service, may choose to continue to work and remain in the labor force for years, collecting both a salary and a pension. Other workers retire from full-time employment but continue to work part time to supplement their pension, Social Security, or retirement benefits. As a result, not all workers collecting pensions are retired, and some workers collecting salaries are retired.

Besides expanding the definition of the term retirement, an increasing number of older Americans are not subscribing to the traditional timing and lifestyle of retirement. Retirement is no longer an event, it is a process, and work and retirement are no longer mutually exclusive. Even though many older adults still choose to retire from full-time employment at age sixty-five, they remain active by exploring new careers, working part time, volunteering, and engaging in a variety of leisure activities. An increasing proportion of older adults work well beyond age sixty-five, and some choose not to retire at all.

According to a survey conducted by the ISR Health and Retirement Study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, the results of which were analyzed by Philippa Clarke of the University of Michigan and presented at the annual meeing of the American Sociological Association (August 13, 2006,, about one out of five Americans aged sixty-two or older who anticipated retiring early found themselves still working in 2004. Almost 30% of older Americans surveyed were still employed. The survey finds that respondents working beyond age sixty-two who had expected to retire were less satisfied with their lives than their retired peers. Clark opines that changes in pension plans and benefits, coupled with possible threats to the long-term viability of Social Security and Medicare, have prompted many older workers to defer retirement.


Throughout much of human history the average length of life was relatively short. In a world where most people did not expect to live beyond age fifty, it was essential that personal, educational, and professional milestones be attained by certain ages. Obtaining an education, job training, marriage, parenthood, and retirement not only were designated to particular periods of life but also were expected generally to occur only once in a lifetime.

This regimented pattern of life was maintained by tradition and, more recently, reinforced by laws and regulations. In the United States government regulations and institutional rules prescribed the ages at which education began, work-life ended, and pension and Social Security benefits commenced. This timetable was based on the assumptions that these activities were to be performed "on time" and in sequence and that most growth and development occurred in the first half of life, whereas the second half was, in general, characterized by decline and disinvestment.

Social and demographic trendsincluding increased longevity and improved healthtechnological advances, and economic realities have transformed the size and composition of the labor force as well as the nature of family and work. Examples of these changes include:

  • Marriage and childbearing are often postponed in favor of pursuing education and careers. Advances in reproductive technology have enabled women to delay having children by twenty years. Figure 4.1 shows that the number of women aged forty to forty-four giving birth rose from 5.5 births per 1,000 women in 1990 to 9.1 births per 1,000 women in 2005, a 60% increase.
  • Formal learning was once the exclusive province of the young; middle-aged and older adults, however, are increasingly returning to school. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percent of students aged twenty-five and over in part-time diploma and degree-granting programs nearly doubled between 1995 and 2005. Distance learning programs and classes offered online have created additional opportunities for older adults who wish to continue their education. TheThird Report to Congress on the Distance Education Demonstration Program (April 2005, finds that 28% of distance education institutions enroll a majority of students who are aged thirty-five to forty-four, with two institutions reporting that most of their enrollees were aged forty-five to fifty-four. Table 4.1 shows that 33% of adults aged fifty-five to sixty-four and 25% of adults aged sixty-five and older surveyed used distance education in 200405.
  • Career changes and retraining have become the norm rather than the exception. Americans once pursued a single career in their lifetime; many workers now change jobs and even careers several times. Frederick Sheppard, in "The Dynamics of Business and Management Education" (June 1999,, quotes James B. Appleberry, president-emeritus of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, who predicts that by 2020 the average worker will retrain as many as thirteen times in his or her lifetime.
  • Age-based mandatory retirement no longer exists in most private-sector industries. Historically, mandatory retirement ages were justified by the argument that some occupations were either too dangerous for older workers or required high levels of physical and mental acuity. Mandatory retirement is still compulsory for federal law enforcement, correctional officers, firefighters, air traffic controllers, and commercial airline pilots. Mandatory retirement ages have, however, been faulted because they are arbitrary and are not based on actual physical evaluations of individual workers. As a result, some detractors view the practice of age-based mandatory retirement as a form of age discrimination.

Even though a conventional American life generally included education, work, and recreation/retirement, in this order, the current cohort (a group of individuals that shares a common characteristic such as birth years and is studied over time) of workers and retirees have the opportunity to blend, reorder, and repeat these activities as desired. Many gerontologists (professionals who study the social, psychological, and biological aspects of aging) and other aging researchers posit that there is a "third age"a stage of working life when older workers can actively renegotiate their relationships with the labor force. Their choices, depending on life circumstances, may include remaining in the workforce, retirement, or returning to work for periods of part-time, full-time, or part-season employment. Even though not all workers and retirees will choose to stray from the conventional course, increasingly they have the option to do so.


From Agricultural

When the U.S. economy was predominantly agricultural, children were put to work as soon as they were able to contribute to the family upkeep. Similarly, workers who lived beyond age sixty-five did not retire; they worked as long as they were physically able. When older adults were no longer able to work, younger family members cared for them. Older people were valued and respected for their accumulated knowledge and experience and were integral members of the interconnected family and labor systems.

to Industrial

The Industrial Revolution shifted workers from the farm to manufacturing jobs. The work was physically demanding, the hours long, and the tasks rigidly structured. Women labored in factories and at home caring for the family. Older people found themselves displacedtheir skills and experience were not relevant to new technologies nor could they physically compete with the large number of young workers eager to exploit new economic opportunities.

Characteristic Number of adults (thousands) Percentage of adults
Note: Adult educational activities exclude full-time college/university and vocational/technical credential programs. Distance education methods include the following: video tapes, CDs, DVDs, television, radio, the Internet or the World Wide Web, computer or video conferencing, mail, telephone or voicemail, or other types or remote instruction technology.
Total 93,939 32
16 to 24 years 13,286 28
25 to 34 years 20,229 28
35 to 44 years 20,896 35
45 to 54 years 20,032 36
55 to 64 years 11,715 33
65 years or older 7,781 25
Male 41,724 34
Female 52,216 30
White, non-Hispanic 66,909 31
Black, non-Hispanic 10,878 35
Hispanic 7,824 30
Asian or Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic 3,114 38
Other race, non-Hispanic 3,215 37
Highest education level completed
Less than a high school diploma/equivalent 6,881 21
High school diploma/equivalent 20,955 33
Some college/vocational/associate's degree 30,070 33
Bachelor's degree 22,459 31
Graduate or professional education or degree 13,604 34
Household income
$20,000 or less 9,552 32
$20,001 to $35,000 12,866 31
$35,001 to $50,000 41,122 29
$50,001 to $75,000 22,494 34
$75,001 or more 34,904 32
Employment status
Employed full-time 56,906 35
Employed part-time 14,430 29
Unemployed and looking for work 3,784 28
Not in the labor force 18,819 26
Professional/managerial 34,138 34
Sales/service/clerical 31,973 34
Trade and labor 12,768 30

As industrial workers matured, some were promoted to positions as supervisors and managers. For older workers who had been with the same company for many years, labor unions provided a measure of job security through the seniority system ("first hired, last fired"). In an increasingly youth-oriented society, however, older workers were often rejected in favor of younger laborers. Frequent reports of age discrimination prompted Congress to pass the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Enacted in 1967 to protect workers aged forty to sixty-five, ADEA made it illegal for employers or unions to discharge, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate on the basis of age. Victims are eligible for lost wagesthe amount is doubled in the most blatant casesand workers wrongfully terminated may also seek reinstatement. The ADEA Amendments of 1978 made seventy the upper age limit and prohibited mandatory retirement for most workers in the private sector and in the federal government. In 1986 Congress again amended the act to eliminate the upper age limit.

to Service and Information

The U.S. economy continued its dramatic shift away from smokestack industries such as mining and manufacturing to an economy in which service occupations and the production and dissemination of information predominate. As such, the demand for highly educated workers has grown, and the demand for workers who perform physical labor has slackened. Many information age careers and service jobs, such as those in the fields of health, law, information technology, and communications, are ideally suited for older workers because they do not require physical labor, and employers benefit from the cumulative experience of older workers.


As the baby boom generation (people born between 1946 and 1964) approaches retirement age, the proportion of the U.S. population aged sixty-five and over will increase significantly between 2008 and 2035. The U.S. labor force, however, is already undergoing a shift toward a greater number of older workers and a relative scarcity of new entrants.

In Workforce Crisis: How to Beat the Coming Shortage of Skills and Talent (2006), Ken Dychtwald, Tamara J. Erickson, and Robert Morison observe that the youngest workersthose aged sixteen to twenty-fourare growing by 15%, the twenty-five- to thirty-four-year-old age group is growing at just half this rate, and the work-force population between thirty-five and forty-four years old is declining. As the baby boom generation retires, the fastest growth rates are among older workers and the fastest-growing segment is aged fifty-five and older, which means that older workers will constitute a larger proportion of the future workforce. In 2005 fifty-five- to sixty-four-year-olds accounted for more than 12% of the workforce, up from 10.2% in 2000.

Older Adults in the Labor Force

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2004 older workers accounted for 3.4% of the entire U.S. labor force. From 1963 to 2005 the labor force participation of men aged fifty-five and over generally declined until the late 1990s, when rates leveled off or even rose slightly. (See Figure 4.2.) Among men aged sixty-two to sixty-four, labor force participation decreased from 76% to 52%, and among men aged seventy and over, participation fell from 21% to 14%. The observed decline in older adults' participation in the labor force during the 1970s and into the 1980s has been attributed to widespread mandatory retirement practices in many industries that forced workers to retire at age sixty-five. In addition, the eligibility age for Social Security benefits was reduced from sixty-five to sixty-two years of age in the 1960s, enabling workers to retire earlier. The relatively stable proportion of older workers in the labor force since that time is in part because of the relaxation and elimination of mandatory retirement and the liberalization of the Social Security earnings testthe earnings limits that prompt a reduction of Social Security benefits.

Labor force participation of men aged sixty-five to sixty-nine had dropped to about 24% in the mid-1980s; however, by 2005 it had risen to 34%. (See Figure 4.2.) In fact, from 2004 to 2005 labor force participation rose among all older men, with the most significant increases

Year 5561 6264 6569 70 and over
2004 74.4 50.8 32.6 12.8
2005 74.7 52.5 33.6 13.5

among men aged sixty-two to sixty-four, from 51% to 53%, and men aged seventy and over, from 13% to 14%. (See Table 4.2.) This increase may reflect several factors, including economic necessity, the fact that older adults are seeking to remain vital and active into their seventies, a desire for the challenge and social interactions that work offers, or some combination of these.

Work Expectations after Age Sixty-Five

In the issue brief The Retirement System in Transition: The 2007 Retirement Confidence Survey (April 2007,, Ruth Helman, Jack VanDerhei, and Craig Copeland report on the results of the 2007 Retirement Confidence Survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, the American Savings Education Council, and Matthew Greenwald & Associates. According to Helman, VanDerhei, and Copeland, more than half (51%) of workers expected to retire at age sixty-five or later. In contrast to these expectations, however, most retirees (67%) reported actual retirement ages younger than sixty-five.

Retiring earlier than expected also had implications for workers' preparedness for retirement. Helman, Van-Derhei, and Copeland find that putting off retirement and continuing paid employment even after retiring were two popular strategies cited by workers for making up shortfalls in retirement savings. These strategies may be unrealistic given that in 2007 more than two-thirds (37%) of retirees cited retiring earlier than expected.

Older Women Opt to Work Rather Than Retire

Between 1963 and 2005 labor force participation rates generally rose among women aged fifty-five and over, with the largest increase among female workers aged fifty-five to sixty-onefrom 44% in 1963 to 63% in 2005. (See Figure 4.3.) These increases reflect an overall increase of women in the labor force with each successive generation. During the same period the participation rate for women aged sixty-two to sixty-four rose from 29% to 40%, and among women aged sixty-five to sixty-nine the rate increased from 17% to 24%. Even though the labor force participation of women aged seventy and over has remained essentially stable, in recent years participation among women in the other age groups has increased at a faster rate. From 2004 to 2005 the rates of labor force participation edged up among all women aged fifty-five and older, with the rate for women aged seventy and older rising from 6.7% to 7.1%. (See Table 4.3.) These increases also serve to narrow the gap in labor force participation rates between men and women.

Most of today's older women spent some time in the labor force when they were younger. The older the woman, however, the less likely she is to have ever worked outside the home. In the United States the group of women in their late fifties and early sixties that was the first to work outside the home in large numbers is approaching retirement. Women in this cohort who are single, widowed, or divorced often continue to work to support themselves because they do not have sufficient Social Security credits to retire.

Married older women are increasingly choosing to keep working after their husbands retire, breaking with the practice of joining their husbands in retirement. More often, in terms of retirement, older husbands and wives head in opposite directions. Among the reasons cited are:

Year 5561 6264 6569 70 and over
2004 62.1 38.7 23.3 6.7
2005 62.7 40.0 23.7 7.1
  • Older women have careers they find personally satisfying as well as financially rewarding.
  • They need to secure their retirement to prevent the poverty that has historically afflicted widows.
  • Their income helps to maintain the family standard of living and may be vital when their husbands have been pressured to retire by their employers or suffer failing health.
  • They enjoy the social interactions at the workplacewomen value relationships with coworkers more than men, and as a result women often find retirement more isolating.

According to the National Economic Council Inter-agency Working Group on Social Security, in Women and Retirement Security (October 27, 1998,, the percentage of women receiving benefits based solely on their own earnings history is expected to rise from 37% in 1998 to 60% in 2060.

The Aging Labor Force

The BLS documents the extent to which the U.S. workforce has aged and projects an increasing proportion of older workers in the labor force. There have already been marked increases in workers aged fifty-five and over, from just 13.1% in 1984 to 15.6% in 2004; this age group is forecast to account for more than one-fifth of

Labor force Population
Group 1984 1994 2004 2014 1984 1994 2004 2014
Total, 16 years and older 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
16 to 24 21.1 16.5 15.1 13.7 20.1 16.5 16.3 15.2
25 to 34 28.8 26.2 21.8 22.7 22.7 21.0 17.4 17.4
35 to 44 22.0 26.9 24.5 20.6 17.2 21.1 19.4 16.2
45 and over 28.1 30.4 38.5 43.1 40.1 41.4 46.9 51.2
55 and over 13.1 11.9 15.6 21.2 27.5 26.2 28.4 33.7
65 and over 2.6 2.9 3.4 5.4 15.0 15.8 15.5 17.8
75 and over 0.4 0.5 0.7 1.1 5.8 6.5 7.4 7.4
Men, 16 years and older 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
16 to 24 19.9 16.1 14.8 13.2 20.9 17.3 17.0 15.7
25 to 34 29.0 26.6 22.5 23.9 23.4 21.6 18.0 18.0
35 to 44 22.0 26.8 24.7 21.0 17.6 21.7 19.7 16.6
45 and over 29.1 30.4 37.9 42.0 38.0 39.5 45.2 49.7
55 and over 13.8 12.1 15.6 20.7 25.2 24.1 26.5 32.0
65 and over 2.7 3.1 3.5 5.6 12.9 13.7 13.6 16.3
75 and over 0.4 0.6 0.7 1.1 4.4 5.1 5.9 6.1
Women, 16 years and older 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
16 to 24 22.7 16.9 15.5 14.2 19.3 15.9 15.6 14.6
25 to 34 28.6 25.7 21.1 21.3 22.0 20.4 16.9 16.9
35 to 44 21.9 27.0 24.3 20.1 16.7 20.6 19.0 15.9
45 and over 26.8 30.4 39.2 44.4 41.9 43.1 48.5 52.6
55 and over 12.2 11.5 15.6 21.7 29.5 28.2 30.2 35.3
65 and over 2.4 2.8 3.2 5.1 16.9 17.7 17.2 19.3
75 and over 0.3 0.5 0.6 1.0 6.9 7.8 8.7 8.6
Percent of workers with alternative arrangements*
Age and sex Total employed (in thousands) Total Independent contractors On-call Workers Temporary help agency workers workers provided by contract firms Workers with traditional arrangements
*Independent contractors are workers who were identified as independent contractors, independent consultants, or freelance workers, whether they were self-employed or wage and salary workers. On-call workers are workers who are called to work only as needed, although they can be scheduled to work for several days or weeks in a row. Temporary help agency workers are workers who were paid by a temporary help agency, whether or not their job was temporary. Workers provided by contract firms are workers who are employed by a company that provides them or their services to others under contract and who are usually assigned to only one customer and usually work at the customer's worksite.
Notes: Workers with traditional arrangements are those who do not fall into any of the "alternative arrangements" categories. Detail may not sum to totals because the total employed includes day laborers (an alternative arrangement, not shown separately) and a small number of workers who were both "on call" and "provided by contract firms." Dash represents zero.
Total, 16 years and over 138,952 100.0 7.4 1.8 0.9 0.6 89.1
       16 to 19 years 5,510 100.0 1.6 2.4 .6 .1 94.3
       20 to 24 years 13,114 100.0 2.7 2.7 1.5 .7 91.9
       25 to 34 years 30,103 100.0 5.0 1.8 1.2 .7 91.1
       35 to 44 years 34,481 100.0 8.0 1.7 .7 .6 88.9
       45 to 54 years 32,947 100.0 8.5 1.3 .6 .6 89.0
       55 to 64 years 17,980 100.0 10.8 1.5 .8 .6 86.2
       65 years and over 4,817 100.0 18.3 3.6 .7 .4 76.8
Women, 16 years and over 65,006 100.0 5.6 1.9 1.0 .4 91.0
       16 to 19 years 2,931 100.0 1.9 1.8 .3 95.7
       20 to 24 years 6,186 100.0 2.6 2.5 1.5 .4 92.5
       25 to 34 years 13,480 100.0 3.8 1.8 1.3 .5 92.6
       35 to 44 years 15,958 100.0 5.8 2.0 .8 .4 91.0
       45 to 54 years 15,754 100.0 6.6 1.3 .8 .3 90.9
       55 to 64 years 8,495 100.0 7.7 1.9 1.0 .5 88.8
       65 years and over 2,202 100.0 13.3 3.8 .8 .7 81.1
       Men, 16 years and over 73,946 100.0 9.1 1.7 .8 .8 87.5
       16 to 19 years 2,579 100.0 1.2 3.2 .9 .3 92.6
       20 to 24 years 6,928 100.0 2.8 2.9 1.5 .9 91.4
       25 to 34 years 16,624 100.0 6.1 1.8 1.1 .8 89.9
       35 to 44 years 18,523 100.0 9.8 1.4 .6 .8 87.1
       45 to 54 years 17,193 100.0 10.3 1.2 .4 .8 87.3
       55 to 64 years 9,485 100.0 13.6 1.1 .5 .7 83.9
       65 years and over 2,615 100.0 22.5 3.5 .6 .1 73.3

the labor force (21.2%) in 2014. (See Table 4.4.) The participation of women aged fifty-five and older in the labor force will rise by more than 77.8%, from 12.2% in 1984 to 21.7% in 2014.

Part-Time and Contract Work

A 2004 survey of older workers conducted by Watson Wyatt Worldwide and reported in "Older Workers: What Keeps Them Working?" (July 18, 2005, by Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes and Michael Smyer of the Center on Aging and Work Workplace Flexibility finds that even though more than 60% of older workers want to work fewer hours during the later years of their work lives, less than half deem it likely.

Older workers may find increasing opportunities for flexible employment and alternative work arrangements, such as working as an independent contractor rather than as an employee or as an on-call worker rather than as a daily worker. For employers, hiring part-time older workers is often an attractive alternative to hiring younger, full-time workers. Some employers value older workers' maturity, dependability, and experience. Others hire older workers to reduce payroll expenses. This reduction is achieved when part-time workers are hired as independent contractors and do not receive benefits, or when they are paid lower wages than full-time employees and not provided benefits. Table 4.5 shows that in 2005 the age groups with the highest percentage of alternative arrangements, such as working as independent contractors, were workers aged fifty-five to sixty-four years old (10.8%) and those aged sixty-five and older (18.3%).

Job Tenure

Older people tend to be stable employees who stay in the same job longer than younger employees. Job tenure is measured as the median (the middle valuehalf are higher and half are lower) number of years workers have been with their current employer. According to the BLS, in January 2006 workers aged fifty-five to sixty-four had three times the median years of job tenure (9.3 years), compared to those aged twenty-five to thirty-four (2.9 years). (See Table 4.6.)

Age and sex February 1996 February 1998 February 2000 January 2002 January 2004 January 2006
Note: Data for 1996 and 1998 are based on population controls from the 1990 census. Data beginning in 2000 reflect the introduction of Census 2000 population controls and are not strictly comparable with data for prior years. Some data in this table may vary slightly from the data published in the Employee Tenure 2004 news release (USDL 04-1829) due to recalculation of the estimates with the new population controls. In addition, data for January 2004 reflect the introduction of revisions to population controls in January 2003 and 2004, and data for January 2006 reflect the introduction of revisions to population controls in January 2005 and 2006.
16 years and over 3.8 3.6 3.5 3.7 4.0 4.0
       16 to 17 years .7 .6 .6 .7 .7 .6
       18 to 19 years .7 .7 .7 .8 .8 .7
       20 to 24 years 1.2 1.1 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.3
25 years and over 5.0 4.7 4.7 4.7 4.9 4.9
       25 to 34 years 2.8 2.7 2.6 2.7 2.9 2.9
       35 to 44 years 5.3 5.0 4.8 4.6 4.9 4.9
       45 to 54 years 8.3 8.1 8.2 7.6 7.7 7.3
       55 to 64 years 10.2 10.1 10.0 9.9 9.6 9.3
       65 years and over 8.4 7.8 9.4 8.6 9.0 8.8
16 years and over 4.0 3.8 3.8 3.9 4.1 4.1
       16 to 17 years .6 .6 .6 .8 .7 .7
       18 to 19 years .7 .7 .7 .8 .8 .7
       20 to 24 years 1.2 1.2 1.2 1.4 1.3 1.4
25 years and over 5.3 4.9 4.9 4.9 5.1 5.0
       25 to 34 years 3.0 2.8 2.7 2.8 3.0 2.9
       35 to 44 years 6.1 5.5 5.3 5.0 5.2 5.1
       45 to 54 years 10.1 9.4 9.5 9.1 9.6 8.1
       55 to 64 years 10.5 11.2 10.2 10.2 9.8 9.5
       65 years and over 8.3 7.1 9.0 8.1 8.2 8.3
16 years and over 3.5 3.4 3.3 3.4 3.8 3.9
       16 to 17 years .7 .6 .6 .7 .6 .6
       18 to 19 years .7 .7 .7 .8 .8 .7
       20 to 24 years 1.2 1.1 1.0 1.1 1.3 1.2
25 years and over 4.7 4.4 4.4 4.4 4.7 4.8
       25 to 34 years 2.7 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.8 2.8
       35 to 44 years 4.8 4.5 4.3 4.2 4.5 4.6
       45 to 54 years 7.0 7.2 7.3 6.5 6.4 6.7
       55 to 64 years 10.0 9.6 9.9 9.6 9.2 9.2
       65 years and over 8.4 8.7 9.7 9.4 9.6 9.5


Older workers are often stereotyped by the mistaken belief that performance declines with age. Performance studies, however, reveal that older workers perform intellectually as well as or better than workers thirty years younger by maintaining their problem-solving, communication, and creative skills. In "Aging Workers" (Occupational Environmental Medicine, August 2001), a survey of retail and industrial human resource managers, Juhani E. Ilmarinen finds that workers aged sixty and older perform as well or better than their younger counterparts. In fact, Ilmarinen confirms that if any correlation exists between age and performance, it is that most performance improves with age.

Myth: Older Workers Have Overly
Increased Absenteeism

Because aging is associated with declining health, it is often mistakenly assumed that older workers have markedly higher rates of illnesses and absences from work. Somewhat surprisingly, the chronic (long-term) health conditions older adults may suffer tend to be manageable and do not affect attendance records. In fact, absence rates for older full-time wage and salary workers differ only slightly from those of younger workers. According to the BLS, in 2006 the absence rate for workers aged fifty-five years and over was 3.6%, compared to 3.2% for those aged twenty-five to fifty-four. (See Table 4.7.)

Myth: It Costs More to Hire Older Workers

One widely accepted myth is that hiring and training older workers is not a sound investment because they will not remain on the job long. Yet, according to the BLS, in January 2006 workers aged forty-five to fifty-four had an average job tenure of 8.1 years, which was nearly three times longer than the 2.9 years for workers aged twenty-five to thirty-four. (See Table 4.6.) Research

Age and sex Total employed (in thousands) Absence rate a Lost worktime rate b
Total Illness or injury Other reasons Total Illness or injury Other reasons
aAbsences are defined as instances when persons who usually work 35 or more hours a week at their main job worked less than 35 hours during the reference week for one of the following reasons: Own illness, injury, or medical problems; child-care problems; other family or personal obligations; civic or military duty; and maternity or paternity leave. Excluded are situations in which work was missed due to vacation or personal days, holiday, labor dispute, slack work or business conditions, and the wait for a new job to begin. For multiple jobholders, absence data refer only to work missed at their main jobs. All self-employed persons are excluded, regardless of whether or not their jobs are incorporated. The absence rate is the ratio of workers with absences to total full-time wage and salary workers who usually work 35 hours or more on their main job. The estimates of full-time wage and salary employment shown in this table do not match those in other tables in part because the estimates in this table are based on the full CPS sample and those in the other tables are based on a quarter of the sample only.
bHours absent as a percent of hours usually worked.
Note: Beginning in January 2006, data reflect revised population controls used in the household survey.
Total, 16 years and over 105,785 3.2 2.3 0.9 1.8 1.2 0.5
       16 to 19 years 1,741 3.0 2.1 .9 1.4 1.1 .4
       20 to 24 years 9,490 2.8 1.9 .9 1.4 .9 .5
       25 years and over 94,555 3.3 2.3 .9 1.8 1.3 .5
       25 to 54 years 78,821 3.2 2.2 1.0 1.7 1.2 .6
       55 years and over 15,733 3.6 3.0 .7 2.0 1.7 .3
Men, 16 years and over 59,633 2.4 1.8 .6 1.3 1.0 .3
       16 to 19 years 1,059 2.1 1.7 .5 1.1 1.0 .2
       20 to 24 years 5,462 2.2 1.6 .6 1.0 .8 .2
       25 years and over 53,111 2.4 1.9 .6 1.3 1.0 .2
       25 to 54 years 44,601 2.3 1.7 .6 1.2 .9 .3
       55 years and over 8,510 3.2 2.7 .5 1.9 1.7 .2
Women, 16 years and over 46,152 4.3 2.8 1.4 2.4 1.5 .9
       16 to 19 years 681 4.4 2.9 1.5 2.0 1.2 .8
       20 to 24 years 4,027 3.8 2.3 1.4 2.0 1.0 1.0
       25 years and over 41,443 4.3 2.9 1.4 2.4 1.6 .9
       25 to 54 years 34,221 4.3 2.8 1.5 2.5 1.5 1.0
       55 years and over 7,223 4.2 3.3 .9 2.3 1.8 .4

conducted by the AARP repeatedly demonstrates that workers between the ages of fifty and sixty work for an average of fifteen years. Furthermore, the Mature Workers Employment Alliance, an organization dedicated to assisting older workers in transitioning to new positions, asserts that the future work life of employees over age fifty generally exceeds the life of the technology for which they are trained.

The AARP also observes that even though older workers' health, disability, and life insurance costs are higher than those of younger workers, they are offset by lower costs because of fewer dependents. Even though older workers generally have earned more vacation time and have higher pension costs, they take fewer risks and as a result have lower accident rates. Workers over the age of fifty file fewer workers' compensation claims than younger workersthe largest number of claims are filed by workers between the ages of thirty and thirty-four. Fringe benefit costs for workers of all ages are about the same overall. Finally, retaining experienced older workers actually reduces employer costs associated with recruiting, hiring, and training new, younger workers.

Myth: Older Workers Are Technophobes

Even though older workers may require more time to learn new technologies, their improved attitudes, study habits, and diligence often help them to surpass younger workers in training courses. There is a pervasive myth that older adults are unable to learn or use new information technology. However, according to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive (May 12, 2005,, in 2005, 29% of adults aged fifty and over were online and 8% of adults aged sixty-five or older were Internet users.

A study conducted by Tracey Rizzuto of Louisiana State University finds that older workers are more willing to learn new technology than their younger coworkers. Rizzuto surveyed workers for the state of Pennsylvania after the state's computer system was upgraded. She discovered that not only did the older workers understand the benefits of the changes but also they were motivated to learn and implement the new system out of a sense of loyalty to their colleagues and obligation to their employer. According to "Study Shows Older Workers More Open to Change" (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, March 10, 2005), Rizzuto said, "There is some research that shows older workers may not be as quick in learning new technology skills as younger people, but this study shows the commitment and willingness to learn is stronger among the older workers."

Fiscal year
1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
*Does not include monetary benefits obtained through litigation.
Note: The total of individual percentages may not always sum to 100% due to rounding
Receipts 15,785 15,191 14,141 16,008 17,405 19,921 19,124 17,837 16,585 16,548
Resolutions 18,279 15,995 15,448 14,672 15,155 18,673 17,352 15,792 14,076 14,146
Resolutions by type:
Settlements 642 755 816 1,156 1,006 1,222 1,285 1,377 1,326 1,417
3.50% 4.70% 5.30% 7.90% 6.60% 6.50% 7.40% 8.70% 9.40% 10.00%
Withdrawals with benefits 762 580 578 560 551 671 710 787 764 767
4.20% 3.60% 3.70% 3.80% 3.60% 3.60% 4.10% 5.00% 5.40% 5.40%
Administrative closures 4,986 4,175 3,601 3,232 3,963 6,254 2,824 3,550 2,537 2,639
27.30% 26.10% 23.30% 22.00% 26.10% 33.50% 16.30% 22.50% 18.00% 18.70%
No reasonable cause 11,163 9,863 9,172 8,517 8,388 9,725 11,976 9,563 8,866 8,746
61.10% 61.70% 59.40% 58.00% 55.30% 52.10% 69.00% 60.60% 63.00% 61.80%
Reasonable cause 726 622 1,281 1,207 1,247 801 557 515 583 612
4.00% 3.90% 8.30% 8.20% 8.20% 4.30% 3.20% 3.30% 4.10% 4.30%
      Successful conciliations 74 119 184 241 409 208 166 139 169 177
0.40% 0.70% 1.20% 1.60% 2.70% 1.10% 1.00% 0.90% 1.20% 1.30%
      Unsuccessful conciliations 652 503 1,097 966 838 593 391 376 414 435
3.60% 3.10% 7.10% 6.60% 5.50% 3.20% 2.30% 2.40% 2.90% 3.10%
Merit resolutions 2,130 1,957 2,675 2,923 2,804 2,694 2,552 2,679 2,673 2,796
11.70% 12.20% 17.30% 19.90% 18.50% 14.40% 14.70% 17.00% 19.00% 19.80%
Monetary benefits (millions)* $44.30 $34.70 $38.60 $45.20 $53.70 $55.70 $48.90 $69.00 $77.70 $51.50

Older workers are also found to be more likely to support company initiatives and values, and as a result they tend to remain with their employer longer than do younger workers.


But more and more, America will come to believe that there is no fixed age for retirement, that work is important to individuals and to organizations, and that age itself should not disqualify anyone from being hired nor discourage anyone from seeking work.
William Novelli, "Seizing the Human Capital in Older Workers"

Even though the 1967 ADEA and its amendments were enacted to ban discrimination against workers based on their age, the act was also intended to promote the employment of older workers based on their abilities. Besides making it illegal for employers to discriminate based on age in hiring, discharging, and compensating employees, the act also prohibited companies from coercing older workers into accepting incentives to early retirement. In 1990 ADEA was strengthened with the passing of the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act. As well as prohibiting discrimination in employee benefits based on age, it provides that an employee's waiver of the right to sue for age discrimination, a clause sometimes included in severance packages, is invalid unless it is "voluntary and knowing."

However, age bias and discrimination persist, even though age discrimination in the workplace is against the law. More than fifteen thousand claims of age discrimination are filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) every year. Even though most cases involve older workers who believe they were terminated unfairly, a number of the cases involve workers who feel they have met age discrimination in hiring practices.

The number of claims received by the EEOC declined from the 2002 high of 19,921 to 16,548 in 2006. (See Table 4.8.) The EEOC resolved 14,146 of these charges in 2006; however, agency data reveal that most claimants do not win. Of the claims that were resolved in 2006, the EEOC found "reasonable cause" that age discrimination may have occurred in just 612 cases and found "no reasonable cause" in 8,746 cases.

Pressure to Retire

There are many forms of subtle discrimination against older workers as well as ways employers can directly or indirectly exert pressure on older employees to retire or resign. This form of discrimination is "under the radar" and in many instances violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the law of ADEA.

From an employer's standpoint, age discrimination is simply the consequence of efforts to reduce payroll expenses. Employment decisions are not only based on how much an employee contributes to the company but also on the salary and benefits the company must provide the employee, relative to the cost of other employees. Because salary tends to increase with longevity on the job, older workers usually receive higher wages than younger ones. Thus, if two employees are equally productive and the older one has a higher salary, a company has an economic incentive to lay off the older worker or strongly encourage early retirement.

Some policy makers assign a portion of the blame for employers' actions to the federal government, which by outlawing age discrimination has also inadvertently contributed to it. In "The Adams Principle" (New York Times, June 21, 2005), John Tierney asserts that ADEA was itself a reason not to hire an older worker. He asks, "Given a choice between two equally qualified candidates, whom would you hire, a 35-year-old who could be quickly demoted or fired if he turns out to be incompetent, or a 65-year-old who could sue you for age discrimination?" Tierney also observes that a sixty-five-year-old is more expensive than a younger worker to add to the company health plan and suggests that if federal policy was amended to permit older workers to rely primarily on Medicare rather than employer-sponsored health benefits, then more older adults would be hired and retained in the workforce.

For many workers, early retirement is untenable. Early retirement benefits are almost always less than regular retirement benefits and may be insufficient to allow a retiree to live comfortably without working. Finding a new job is more challenging for older workers, and they are frequently unemployed for longer periods than are younger job seekers. Furthermore, workers who refuse to accept early retirement may find themselves without jobs at all, perhaps with no pension and no severance pay.

Some labor economists contend that early retirements, whether voluntary or coerced, deprive the nation of skilled workers needed for robust growth and deprive the government of the revenue that these workers would have contributed in income and payroll taxes.

Filing ADEA ClaimsSuing the Company

If you're a 55-year-old male who's lost your $70,000 job, what do you do? The odds of finding any job, let alone a comparable job, are slim. So you fight.
Howard Eglit, quoted by Robert J. Grossman in "Are You Ignoring Older Workers?"

The costs involved in filing an age discrimination suit are high. Besides the financial outlay for legal representation, workers who sue their employers may be stigmatized and face further discriminationfuture employers' reluctance to hire a worker who has filed a discrimination suit against a former employer. Workers caught in this scenario can suffer emotional and financial damage that may adversely affect them for the rest of their lives. Nonetheless, many workers do choose to sue their employers.

According to Robert J. Grossman, in "Are You Ignoring Older Workers?" (HR Magazine, August 2003), the Society for Human Resource Management indicates that there are three main reasons for legal action based on allegations of age discrimination:

  • Cases related to job loss
  • Claims based on failure to hire
  • Claims alleging harassmentantagonism or intimidation that creates a hostile work environment

The main classes of issues affecting older workers involve:

  • The determination of whether being overqualifiedhaving too much education or experiencemay be grounds (or a pretext) for refusing to hire an older person
  • Whether a senior worker's higher salary may be used as a basis for discharge
  • Which preconditions employers can demand from older workers before hiring (e.g., hiring an older worker with special exemptions from benefits)

Employment attorneys and industry observers conjecture that an aging population, coupled with low unemployment rates, strong demand for experienced workers, and managers who are themselves older, have already begun and will continue to deemphasize age as an issue in the marketplace.


Our nation has yet to rewrite the scripts around later life choices and changes in contemporary society.
Phyllis Moen, "Existing Scripts for Retirement Are Obsolete, but What's Next?"

In The 21st Century at Work: Forces Shaping the Future Workforce and Workplace in the United States (2004,, Lynn A. Karoly and Constantijn W. A. Panis of the RAND Corporation consider slower growth of the U.S. workforce, shifting workforce composition, and increased demand for highly skilled workers committed to lifelong learning as key forces shaping the future of the workplace in the United States. They observe that the aging U.S. population and the rising proportion of working women has resulted in a work-force that is more balanced in terms of the distribution of workers by age, gender, race, and ethnicity, but that the growth rate of the workforce is increasing at a considerably slower pace than it has in the past.

Karoly and Panis posit that one way to raise the rate of labor force growth is to motivate workers to retire later. Along with changes in incentives associated with pension plans and Social Security, the workplace itself has changed in ways that accommodate older workers. For example, technology has enabled many workers to enjoy nonstandard and increasingly flexible work locations and arrangements, such as telecommuting, distance and online training, working from home, and part-time contractual employment.

Karoly and Panis also see indications that the participation of older workers will itself shape the face of the workforce and workplace. The need for these skilled workers may prompt employers to offer more flexibility in job responsibilities, number of hours worked, and rates of pay. Older workers may also precipitate changes in government policies that currently constrain employers' ability to adjust benefits for older workers to account for changes in preferences for compensation, health insurance, pension benefits, and other benefits as workers age.

Baby Boomers and Retirees Want to Do Good Work

People who were told from birth about their own significance aren't ready to give it up just because they've hit a career ceiling called "retirement age."
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, "Baby Boomers Still Want to Change the World"

According to the New Face of Work Survey (June 2005,, a joint research project by Civic Ventures, a think tank dedicated to helping society realize the greatest return on people's life experience, and Princeton Survey Research Associates, which was funded by the MetLife Foundation, Americans aged fifty to seventy are not only intent on working and remaining active during the years traditionally spent in retirement but also want to perform work that benefits their communities. Nearly half (49%) of Americans aged fifty to seventy view retirement as a new chapter in their lives, whereas 25% see it as "the end of their productive years."

Americans planning to work in their retirement years want jobs that offer purpose and involvement with others as well as income. The New Face of Work Survey reports that of the more than half of survey respondents who want to work in retirement, 78% are interested in "good work"service careers in the helping professionsoffering aid to the poor, disadvantaged youth, older adults, or others in need. The baby boomers (for survey purposes, respondents aged fifty to fifty-nine) were the most emphatic about their intent to do good work60% said "it is important that work in retirement serve the community and those in need." They are not, however, interested in traditional volunteer opportunities. Instead, they want to lead efforts and wield as much influence as possible to create social change. Having challenged and changed many aspects of society in the past with the sheer force of their numbers and ambitions, baby boomers expect to generate a comparable impact on the issues they choose to tackle as older adults.

Per the New Face of Work Survey, more than half (56%) of all respondents planning to work are interested in health issues and health care, and a similar proportion (55%) said they would like to teach or be involved in some aspect of education. Even though these older adults aspire to careers of service, they are not entirely confident that they will be able to obtain such positions. Nearly half feel that finding and obtaining good work could be either difficult (31%) or very difficult (17%).

Older adults' concerns about their inability to find meaningful work may be justified. In "Don't Fool Yourself: This Won't Be Easy for Employers," a commentary included in the New Face of Work Survey, Peter Cappelli, the director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania, cautions that there are still many prejudices against older workers. He is also uncertain that employers will adapt quickly enough to make use of the tremendous resource represented by retirement-age boomers.

According to the New Face of Work Survey, 80% of older Americans surveyed want to see the laws and policies that hinder work in retirement changed. Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans expressed support for measures to remove obstacles to employment. The responses of older adults to questions about some specific issues show the following:

  • Sixty percent favor tax credits for older Americans who work in schools or social service.
  • Forty-eight percent support funding education and training to prepare older adults to work in schools or social service.
  • Forty-six percent support grants or tax credits for adults over fifty who spend a year training for, or working in, community service jobs.

In "Think Big: Make Aging Policy Equal to the Aging Opportunity," a commentary included in the New Face of Work Survey, John S. Gomperts, the chief executive officer of Experience Corps, a national service organization for older Americans, contends that to tap the human resource potential represented by the aging baby boomers federal policies must be revised to:

  • Eliminate penalties for continuing to work or reentering the workforce.
  • Invest in education and training to help boomers help their communities.
  • Encourage experimentation with a wide range of opportunities to determine which are most effective in getting boomers into new jobs.
  • Provide incentives and recognition for good work in the retirement years.

Gomperts also asserts that "just as investing in young people is critical to economic and social needs, investing now in capturing and channeling the energy and talent of older adults is in the greater national interest."


In "The Boomers, Good Work, and the Next Stage of Life," the introductory essay for the New Face of Work Survey, Civic Ventures president Mark Freedman identifies ten trends arising from analysis of the survey data:

  1. The current cohort of older adults is more interested in gaining the "freedom to work" rather than the "freedom from work." Two-thirds (65%) of baby boomers intending to work in their retirement years are trailblazers, creating a new stage of life and a new stage of work.
  2. Older adults want to do well by doing goodthey will seek opportunities in social services, health care, and education that will enable them to generate income and improve the lives of others.
  3. The timing of boomers' retirement and interest in service careers coincides with an urgent need for workers in the very sectorshealth, education, and social servicesthey are interested in entering.
  4. The coming generation of older adults may not pursue volunteer opportunities as vigorously as past generations. They are motivated to assume positions of leadership and equate paid work with being taken seriously.
  5. Boomers heading into retirement may want flexible and part-time employment like opportunities currently available with retailers such as Wal-Mart and the Home Depot, but they are more interested in community service and social renewal than they are in entering the retail sector.
  6. Boomers want second careers, not part-time jobs. Even though they may desire the flexibility of part-time employment, their commitment to meaningful work renders them willing to pursue education and training to prepare them for second careers that they anticipate lasting ten to twenty years. Also, even though they may not have as many years to devote to second careers as they did to their first, they want to make comparable contributions.
  7. Older adults are interested in achieving a satisfying work-life balance, but they have soundly rejected the notion that the years after age fifty represent a period of decline and disengagement.
  8. The commitment to service of the current group of older adults is attributable not only to their idealism but also to the historic effort to find meaning and identity in work and the desire to work with others who share common goals.
  9. Older adults are realistic about the fact that the opportunities they seek may not be readily available. There is guidance to help workers plan their financial futures, but there is no comparable "roadmap" to help them navigate second careers. Older adults are lacking the preparation to obtain jobs in nonprofit service organizations; likewise, this sector is similarly unprepared to accommodate the boomers poised to enter it.
  10. Members of the baby boom generation are experienced at overcoming obstacles and breaking down barriers. Veterans of antiwar protests of the 1960s and the women's movement of the 1970s, boomers are used to speaking up and creating change. If the force of a social movement is required to create career opportunities for older adults, then these seasoned agitators may well be the ones to accomplish this objective.

Freedman concludes that fully realizing and benefiting from the experience, skill, and talent of older adults will be neither easy nor inevitable. However, he is confident that it will be worth the effort, asserting, "The payoff is nothing less than a society that makes sense, one that balances the joys and responsibility of engagement throughout the lifespan and across the generations. In other words, one that works better for everybody."

Volunteerism in Retirement

Volunteerism among older adults is a relatively new phenomenon. Historically, older adults were seen as the segment of society most in need of care and support. As medical technology enables people to live longer, healthier lives, and as stereotypes about aging shatter, the older population is now being recognized as a valuable resource for volunteer organizations.

Every day millions of older Americans perform volunteer work in their communities. Often having more free time as well as the wisdom and experience derived from years of living, they make ideal volunteers. Older adult volunteers are highly educated and skilled and can offer volunteer organizations many of the professional services they would otherwise have to purchase, such as legal, accounting, public relations, information systems support, and human resource management. Perhaps more important, they have empathy and compassion, having encountered many of the same problems faced by those they seek to help.

According to the BLS, volunteer rates in 2006 were the lowest for people aged sixty-five and over (23.8% of the population) and for those in their early twenties (17.8%). Volunteers aged sixty-five and older did, however, devote the most timea median of 104 hours during

Percent distribution of total annual hours spent volunteering at all organizations
Characteristics in September 2006 Total volunteers (thousands) Total 1 to 14 hour(s) 15 to 49 hours 50 to 99 hours 100 to 499 hours 500 hours and over Not reporting annual hours Median annual hours a
aFor those reporting annual hours.
bData refer to persons 25 years and over.
cIncludes high school diploma or equivalent.
dIncludes the categories, some college, no degree; and associate degree.
eIncludes divorced, separated, and widowed persons.
fOwn children include sons, daughters, stepchildren, and adopted children. Not included are nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and other related and unrelated children.
gUsually work 35 hours or more a week at all jobs.
hUsually work less than 35 hours a week at all jobs.
Note: Data on volunteers relate to persons who performed unpaid volunteer activities for an organization at any point from September 1, 2005, through the survey period in September 2006. Estimates for the above race groups (white, black or African American, and Asian) do not sum to totals because data are not presented for all races. In addition, persons whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race and, therefore, are classified by ethnicity as well as by race.
Total, both sexes 61,199 100.0 21.1 24.9 14.7 28.6 5.6 5.2 52
Men 25,546 100.0 20.7 24.5 15.0 28.9 5.7 5.2 52
Women 35,653 100.0 21.4 25.3 14.4 28.4 5.4 5.1 50
Total, 16 years and over 61,199 100.0 21.1 24.9 14.7 28.6 5.6 5.2 52
       16 to 24 years 8,044 100.0 23.5 27.4 15.3 22.7 4.0 7.1 40
              16 to 19 years 4,426 100.0 22.2 29.7 16.4 21.4 3.6 6.8 40
              20 to 24 years 3,618 100.0 25.0 24.7 13.9 24.2 4.6 7.6 40
       25 years and over 53,155 100.0 20.7 24.5 14.6 29.5 5.8 4.8 52
              25 to 34 years 9,096 100.0 28.1 27.2 14.7 22.2 3.4 4.4 36i
              35 to 44 years 13,308 100.0 22.6 26.8 14.9 27.0 4.9 3.8 48
              45 to 54 years 13,415 100.0 19.9 25.2 15.5 29.4 5.2 4.8 52
              55 to 64 years 8,819 100.0 18.1 23.0 15.2 31.9 7.0 4.8 63
              65 years and over 8,518 100.0 13.8 18.9 12.0 38.8 9.4 7.1 104
Race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity
White 52,850 100.0 20.8 25.1 14.8 29.1 5.4 4.7 52
Black or African American 5,211 100.0 21.0 21.6 14.9 26.1 7.0 9.5 52
Asian 1,881 100.0 30.7 25.5 12.6 21.2 4.4 5.6 30
Hispanic or Latino ethnicity 4,212 100.0 22.5 26.0 14.2 25.5 5.1 6.7 42
Educational attainment b
Less than a high school diploma 2,615 100.0 22.6 23.1 15.7 24.0 7.2 7.4 50
High school graduates, no collegec 11,537 100.0 22.7 23.1 12.9 28.9 5.8 6.5 52
Less than a bachelor's degreed 15,196 100.0 21.8 24.9 14.2 29.4 5.7 4.1 52
College graduates 23,808 100.0 18.8 25.2 15.6 30.5 5.7 4.2 55
Marital status
Single, never married 12,982 100.0 24.3 27.4 14.4 23.8 4.3 5.9 40
Married, spouse present 38,579 100.0 19.8 24.2 15.1 30.5 5.6 4.8 52
Other marital statuse 9,638 100.0 21.9 24.6 13.5 27.4 7.2 5.5 50
Presence of own children under 18 years f
       No own children under 18 years old 16,696 100.0 20.2 24.5 14.3 28.6 6.6 5.8 52
       With own children under 18 years old 8,850 100.0 21.6 24.4 16.5 29.4 4.1 4.0 52
       No own children under 18 years old 21,931 100.0 20.2 24.2 14.0 30.2 5.8 5.5 52
       With own children under 18 years old 13,722 100.0 23.3 26.9 15.1 25.5 4.8 4.4 44
Employment status
Civilian labor force 43,579 100.0 22.5 26.2 15.0 27.1 4.7 4.6 48
       Employed 41,861 100.0 22.4 26.3 15.1 27.1 4.6 4.5 48
              Full timeg 32,951 100.0 23.0 26.6 15.3 26.3 4.3 4.5 48
              Part timeh 8,910 100.0 20.1 25.1 14.3 29.9 5.8 4.8 52
       Unemployed 1,718 100.0 23.7 24.8 12.3 27.3 6.2 5.6 48
Not in the labor force 17,621 100.0 17.7 21.7 14.0 32.4 7.6 6.6 70

the yearto volunteer activities. (See Table 4.9.) Older volunteers were more likely to work for religious organizations than younger volunteers. Almost half (44.7%) of volunteers aged sixty-five and older volunteered primarily for religious organizations, compared to 30.1% of volunteers aged twenty to twenty-four.


Efforts to establish a national senior service during the administration of President John F. Kennedy (19171963) are described by Peter Shapiro inA History of National Service in America (1994). In 1963 Kennedy proposed the National Service Corps (NSC) "to provide opportunities for service for those aged persons who can assume active roles in community volunteer efforts." When the NSC was proposed, a scant 11% of the older population was involved in any kind of volunteerism. The plan to engage older adults in full-time, intensive service, with a minimum one-year commitment, to combat urban and rural poverty was viewed as revolutionary. Even though the NSC proposal was championed by the Kennedy administration and widely supported in the public and private sectors, it was defeated in Congress, where reactionary lawmakers linked it to efforts aimed at promoting racial integration in the South.

Despite the defeat of the NSC, the idea of harnessing the volunteer power of older adults had caught on. The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 gave rise to the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) and eventually led to the launch of service programs involving low-income older adultsthe Foster Grandparent, Senior Companion, and Senior Community Service Employment programs. The Foster Grandparent Program matched one thousand older adults aged sixty and over with twenty-five hundred children living in orphanages and other institutions. The older adults would spend four hours a day, five days a week, feeding, cuddling, rocking, and exercising disabled children.

The success of the Foster Grandparent Program exceeded all expectations. In 1971 the program was incorporated into the newly created ACTION agency, along with the Peace Corps, VISTA, the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), and the Active Corps of Executives. Foster Grandparents has since become part of Senior Corps, a network of programs that tap the experience, skills, and talents of older adults to meet community challenges. Through its three programsFoster Grandparents, Senior Companions, and Retired and Senior Volunteer Programnearly half a million Americans aged fifty-five and over assisted local nonprofits, public agencies, and faith-based organizations in 2005. In "Fact Sheet" (June 2006,, the Senior Corps notes that in 2005 its volunteers worked with 328,781 children and teenagers.

Another successful national volunteer program involving older adults is SCORE, the first initiative to use retired business executives as counselors and consultants to small businesses. Established by the Small Business Administration (SBA) in 1964, the program works with recipients of SBA loans and other entrepreneurs, assisting them to draft business plans, evaluate profitability, and develop marketing and sales strategies. One objective of the program is to reduce default rates on these loans. SCORE mentors business owners and provides one-to-one counseling, consultation via e-mail, and training sessions conducted on topics ranging from pricing strategies to marketing. In 2007 SCORE ( boasted 10,500 volunteers with more than 600 business skills.

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Working and Retirement: New Options for Older Adults

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