NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Seniors Are Postponing Retirement

February 26, 2001

For decades, the proportion of people continuing to work at age 65 declined steadily. But in the mid-1980s that trend halted. Then in the mid-1990s, it began to reverse.

  • Government data show that last year 12.8 percent of Americans over 65 were still working -- a higher proportion than at any time since 1979.
  • The increase in participation rates translates into a million more people in the labor force over 65 than there were in 1985.
  • In 1950, seven out of every 10 American men over 65 were working -- but by 1985, just three were.
  • Factors behind the changing trends in retirement are varied -- ranging from personal choice to sheer necessity.

Advances in medicine have allowed many seniors to stay on the job longer than they could have in earlier decades. Tasks have become less physically demanding as the economy moved from manufacturing to services. Tight labor markets characteristic of the booming U.S. economy in recent years have guaranteed slots for older workers who want them.

But there are some negatives, also. For example, eroding pension plans have left some seniors with little choice but to work.

Source: Mary Williams Walsh, "Reversing Decades-Long Trend, Americans Retiring Later in Life," New York Times, February 26, 2001.


Browse more articles on Economic Issues