More and more Americans are working into their 70s and 80s. While so much attention has been given to the Millennial generation, the average U.S. employee is actually getting older. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 1994 the median age of U.S. employees was 37.7 years old. That climbed to 40.3 years old by 2004 and to 41.9 years by 2014. By 2024, the median age of U.S. workers is expected to be 42.4 years old. In addition to that, workers are retiring later. In fact, a greater share of Americans ages 65 and older are working today “than at any time since the turn of the century,” according to Pew Research.
Workers are staying in the labor force longer than they have in the past. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of Americans at least 55 years old who were active in the labor force grew by 47.1%, according to the BLS. That number is expected to grow nearly 20% over the next 10 years. Workers over the age of 55 are expected to be 25% of the labor market by 2024.
While many older workers continue to stay in the labor market longer due to financial reasons, many do it simply because they enjoy working. “We’re living longer lives, and we’re living healthier lives, and that’s allowing a lot of us to work into our 70s and 80s, not because we have to, but because we want to,” said Linda Sharkey, co-author of The Future-Proof Workplace. Take for example, Dorothy Zehnder, of the famous Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth. Dorothy is 95 years old and still works six days a week as the kitchen manager. She had originally planned to retire at age 65, but when she attempted to do so it only lasted two weeks. “I was bored. I said, ‘I think I’ll go back and fry chicken,’ and I did that,” stated Dorothy. She starts each day off inspecting food and works 6-9 hours per day. And on her one day off she bakes at home! Dorothy says that working has helped her stay healthy. “You forget, sometimes, your little ills and aches. You kind of forget when you’re around people and you talk to people, and when you hear their story, you think, oh, I’m a lot healthier than that.”
Stories like Dorothy’s are more and more common. Tom Cooper, 85 years old, still works five days a week as a shoe salesman in Maryland. “I’d go nuts. I’d have nothing to do,” he said. “I can’t lay around the house, do nothing and watch TV. I feel a lot better when I’m walking and helping people and doing stock work.”
Although the average retirement age in America is 63, the portion of people over age 75 in the workforce has more than doubled since 1985 – from 3.6% to 8%. For full-time workers the change is even more drastic – 1% in 1993 to 4% in 2016.
Interestingly, those that put off retirement tend to be from both the highest and lowest wage brackets according to AARP. High wage earners tend to have more flexibility in their schedules, love the work they do, and have longer life spans. Low earners tend to work out of necessity.
Studies show that working into the later years of life helps people stay healthy. Cognitive abilities are better in those still working. In fact, according to the AARP, the cognitive skills that enable us to switch between tasks can be maintained with exercise and training. Therefore, a 75-year old who is smart and active could easily outperform a 40-year old couch potato.
Older workers have a lot to offer in the workforce. They bring with them years of experience and many of the soft skills that younger workers often lack. They’ve learned how to get along with people, problem solve, and ask for help when appropriate. And don’t rule them out for high tech positions either. A new study from North Carolina State University found that older programmers knew a wider variety of topics than their younger cohorts. They were actually found to be more adept at some newer systems. “We think that if you’re familiar with older technology, you’re better able to understand newer systems,” stated the study co-author Emerson Murphy-Hill.
So it appears working longer may actually keep you feeling younger and staying healthier, and employers are reaping the benefits of having these experienced workers on their teams.
Sources: The Washington Post, Money Talks News, AARP, US News