Reuters/Yuriko Nakao

The number of senior citizens in the workforce has nearly tripled since the 1970s.

If you can afford it, the ability to enjoy one's elderly years out of the office is ideal. But longer lifespans often mean that retiring at a more traditional age requires workers to save up larger nest eggs and spend dozens of years living on dwindling savings.

Retiring at 65 has long been considered arbitrary, and while the U.S. abolished mandatory retirement in 1986, some countries have only started phasing out compulsory retirement in the last decade. In the U.S., employment of those aged 65 and older doubled between 1977 and 2007 and continues to climb.


Employment for Workers 65 and Over (in thousands)

(BLS)

Not only is overall employment for this group trending up, older workers are also increasingly working full-time instead of part-time. In 1995, seniors working full-time overtook their part-time peers. And both sets of workers have seen their numbers rise in the past five years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the participation rate of workers 65 and older will rise to 23 percent in 2022.


Workers 65 and Over, by Work Schedule (in thousands)

(Datawrapper/BLS)

The aging population is perhaps already starting to show its impact in the labor market. Consider that the average age of the U.S. labor force has increased by about five years in the last decade: The median age of the U.S. worker is now 42.4. Meanwhile, youth employment has been trending down for years—which has been attributed to both an increased focus on education rather than work, and the recent recession, which decreased job opportunities for teens as competition for jobs typically held by teens increased.

Wolfgang Fengler and Johannes Koettl, lead economist and senior economist at the World Bank, respectively,looked at this trend of elderly workers in European countries. They write that part of this phenomenon is the incredible demographic shift that's happening globally: By 2050, it's expected that the share of senior citizens will triple to 15 percent of the world's population (1.5 billion). Another piece of the puzzle is the changing nature of work; in today's economy, the age of one's physical peak is often divorced from the best years of productivity. They point to the fact that some jobs require cognitive skills that are considered "age-appreciating"—in other words, skills that actually improve with age. According to one research paper, these skills can be anything from technical writing to human-resources management.

Continuing to work past the age of 65 might sound terrible, but some studies have shown that working (or volunteering) can be a good thing for the health of seniors. As Fengler and Koettl write, the idea of retiring at 65 was bizarre to begin with: "A binary system of working 100 percent until retirement and then suddenly moving to zero percent at an arbitrary age of around 65 is one of the great anachronisms of today’s labor market in many OECD countries."

Top image: Reuters / Yuriko Nakao

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Solutions

    ‘Fairbnb’ Wants to Be the Unproblematic Alternative to Airbnb

    The vacation rental industry is mired in claims that it harms neighborhoods and housing markets. Can a nonprofit co-op make the tourist trend a community asset?

  2. Tourists walk along the High Line in Manhattan, New York City
    Life

    The Beauty Premium: How Urban Beauty Affects Cities’ Economic Growth

    A study finds that the more beautiful a city is, the more successful it is at attracting jobs and new residents, including highly educated and affluent ones.

  3. Design

    An Illustrated History of New York City’s Playgrounds

    There are more than 2,000 playgrounds spread across New York City. Ariel Aberg-Riger explores the creative and political history of concrete jungle’s jungle gyms.

  4. Design

    How I. M. Pei Shaped the Modern City

    The architect, who died yesterday at the age of 102, designed iconic modern buildings on prominent sites around the world. Here are some that delight and confound CityLab.

  5. An artist's rendering of a space colony, with farms, a university campus, an elevated train track, and skyscrapers in the background.
    Design

    Jeff Bezos Dreams of a 1970s Future

    If the sci-fi space cities of Bezos’s Blue Origin look familiar, it’s because they’re derived from the work of his college professor, the late physicist Gerard O’Neill.