Older Women Lead the Way as More Americans Work into Their Golden Years

Older Women Lead the Way as More Americans Work into Their Golden Years

Recent surveys of the US workforce show that more Americans are working or planning to work past the conventional retirement age of 65, driven by a mix of increasing life expectancy, a preference for work over retirement, and financial concerns about their ability to retire comfortably. Looking at data from the latest US jobs report, Bloomberg’s Ben Steverman observes that the upward trend in older workers is holding steady, with almost 19 percent of people 65 or older working at least part-time in the second quarter of 2017:

The age group’s employment/population ratio hasn’t been higher in 55 years, before American retirees won better health care and Social Security benefits starting in the late 1960s. … Certainly baby boomers are increasingly ignoring the traditional retirement age of 65. Last quarter, 32 percent of Americans 65 to 69 were employed. Even past age 70, a growing number of seniors are declining to, or unable to, retire. Last quarter, 19 percent of 70- to 74-year-olds were working, up from 11 percent in 1994.

Older Americans are working more even as those under 65 are working less, a trend that the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to continue. By 2024, 36 percent of 65- to 69-year-olds will be active participants in the labor market, the BLS says. That’s up from just 22 percent in 1994.

The trends look strikingly different for men and women, however. While workforce participation is on the rise among older Americans of both genders, Preeti Varathan remarks at Quartz, men over 65 are still working at much lower rates than they were half a century ago, while older women’s participation is reaching record highs:

While overall labor force participation rates were on the rise between 1950 and 2000, older workers were steadily dropping out of the labor force. These workers, however, were mostly men. Older women barely participated at all. Now, older American women are working more than ever.

By 2024, women over 65 are projected to make up the same portion of the female workforce as their male counterparts. This is particularly noteworthy when you consider that the participation rate of young women has stagnated. By 2024, the BLS predicts that there will be twice as many women over 55 in the labor force as women aged 16-24.

Although it would be premature to cast this trend as global without a more thorough exploration of the data, the surge of older women in the workforce is not unique to the US. In Japan, for instance, older women appear to have responded particularly strongly to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “womenomics” initiative, Varathan’s Quartz colleague Dan Kopf points out:

Evan Soltas, a former journalist now studying to be an economist at Oxford University, found that the rate of 55-64 year old women in the labor market has skyrocketed since Abe has been in office. In January 2013, just 55% of older Japanese women were working or looking for a job. In May of 2017 that number had reached 63.6%.

In the case of the US, women who remain in the workforce into their late 60s and 70s are driven by many of the same factors that encourage older men to stay at work: Educated senior women are working in roles that are easier to maintain as they age, and are more likely to have jobs they like and want to keep doing, but they are also particularly likely to postpone retirement for financial reasons, as they tend to have lower cumulative lifetime earnings than their male peers. Older professional women have also charted different paths than their mothers did, investing in their education early on and building successful careers that they are reluctant to abandon at 65.

At the same time, however, older women face a unique set of challenges in the job market and workplace that employers should be aware of as their talent pool gets older: Women over 50 were hit particularly hard by the labor market effects of the Great Recession, and are even more likely then the men in their age cohort to experience age discrimination in hiring.