NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How Long Will Baby Boomers Continue to Work?

July 12, 1999

Americans have been retiring progressively earlier for about a century. Will that trend continue or will more begin working later into life?

Two papers, both by respected economists and both entitled "Has the Early Retirement Trend Reversed," reach opposite conclusions.

  • They agree on the basic Bureau of Labor Statistics data which say that the percentage of 62-year-old men still working, for example, fell from 81 percent in 1950 to 51 percent in 1985 -- but then reversed to 54 percent by last year.
  • Among 70-year-old men, half were working in 1950, while 16 percent were working in 1985 -- but that rose to 21 percent by last year.

The economists, Joseph F. Quinn of Boston College and Dora L. Costa of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, disagree on what the data portend for the future.

  • Quinn contends that the trend toward earlier retirements is over and people have resumed working later into life.
  • Costa holds that the trend of the past 15 years -- during which people continued their careers longer -- represents only a pause in a pattern that could pick up at any time.

The answer is quite important for many reasons, among them: the future of government tax revenues, Social Security claims and the availability of experienced workers in the economy.

Source: Darren McDermott, "Are Baby Boomers Likely to Retire Early?" Wall Street Journal, July 12, 1999.


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