Older Americans Are Working Longer and Retiring Later

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

retirement banner (flickr: Michael Wade)

Continuing our thread this week about the changing American workplace, here's a fact about the changing American workforce: it's getting older. In the twentieth century alone, life expectancy in developing countries shot up by an average of 30 years, leading many to work longer and retire later than their parents had. 

But the current workplace isn't set up for that kind of longevity, so workers are forced to negotiate that terrain by themselves. Susan Damour tried retiring at age 64, but less than two years later she was back in her office at the General Services Administration of the federal government.

Laura Carstensen is a professor of psychology and director of the Stanford Center on Longevitiy, and she has been studying the physical and mental health benefits of working longer and retiring later. 


Laura Carstensen and Susan Damour

Produced by:

Joe Hernandez

Comments [11]


I am George Qantaria to me 19 years I want to work to America but I want that provided me

Jun. 03 2013 03:22 PM

I will be 65 in April and I plan to work until age 66 when I will receive my full Social Security. After that I plan to work part-time in the same field. With SS, two pensions which will be payable at age 65 and part-time work I should be OK. I am the oldest person in my company, although not with the most seniority and no longer fear losing my job because I will simply retire. Working part-time will give me income I need but the extra hours will allow me to pursue the interests I have been putting off for so long.

Mar. 19 2013 03:58 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Good point, Richard Jordan! Hockenberry's 56. No doubt he'll retire with a comfy NPR retirement plan. Would that most 56 year olds feel anywhere near as secure in their careers!

Mar. 19 2013 03:50 PM
Richard L Jordan

Disappointed in Hockenberry allowing his Stanford academic get away with saying the workplace wants young people -- those who "learn quickly," are flexible, etc. Who says older workers don't learn quickly, aren't flexible? Another (older) guest said ability is ageless. I thank her for that. Wake up, Hockenberry.

Mar. 19 2013 03:39 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

The tenor of this conversation is a bit wrong-sided. You can talk to those who feel they can "plan" to retire all you like; most Americans can and won't be able to "plan" anything of the sort--they will either age out or be priced out once their salary reaches a level their companies feel is unsustainable.

This is nothing new. It happened to my father in his comfortable corporate job in the 80s, and has only escalated since. The only difference is that none from Gen X, Y or afterwards will have the Cadillac medical plan and cush benefits my father's generation enjoyed, and if the current sentiment is any indication, this congress is ready and willing to sell us the "advantage" of a 70+ retirement age. Would that we had the choice!

If congress wants us to work into our 70s, then start providing universal healthcare now, because we won't be able to generate benefits for future generations without a decent health state. This doesn't even begin to address the rationale of reduced benefits to us, based on congress NEVER choosing to protect/sequester the funds we've paid into social security all our lives, preferring to use it as their personal checkbook.

Mar. 19 2013 03:35 PM
Bill Hall

Your discussion on retirement is very intersting, however it seems to be focused on people close to the top of the economic ladder in office jobs.
There are lots of people Myself included who don't fit this. I am closing in very fast on sixty! For several years I have been employed in the auto parts industry as I grew up around it. Most of my employment has been with local business. However this has all changed to a corperate model where it is about money and the way the industry has changed they really don't experienced people. All you have to do is punch something into a computer and you have an instant answer with little thought or knowledge of what you are selling. This is true of so many businesses now that do not want or need expereienced workers and certainly don't want to pay anything more than minimum wage.Nobody talks about this since people such as yourself have never had to work for peanuts!

Mar. 19 2013 01:40 PM
Mo Lakes

This conversation regarding elders continuing to work needs to be conducted with business. From my observations, entry level, low paying jobs are the areas where older workers are welcomed with open arms. Corporations prefer to hire younger workers for more advanced positions lowering their costs. Unless you are a professional (medicine, law, other highly educated fields), the older worker is under extreme stress ... high workloads, diminishing energy levels, and a sense that their job is at risk. I am currently a retired educational administrator. I have worked recently as an adjunct and student-teacher supervisor. The pay was extremely low and the work required long hours. I could possibly get a position at a retail or fast food establishment with my Master's Degree plus but other interesting options just do not seem available to me. Now, there are numerous opportunities for me to volunteer. Is that the way businesses are getting around hiring new employees?

Mar. 19 2013 01:34 PM
Guy Gold from Austin, TX

I give credit to the persons you interviewed-that didn't want to suggest older workers have all the skill sets of younger workers. The truth is, as you age, it becomes harder and harder to learn new things because while medicine has figured out how to put off death-medicine hasn't learned much about howing to stop cognitive decline:


One of the assumptions by the Republican Party that because people live longer that they can have much longer productive working careers (so pushing back the Social Security Retirement age isn't a big deal). That assumption is in many ways wrong.

Mar. 19 2013 12:31 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I plan on working two to three years past the day I die and then retire. Fortunately, I come from a blue collar working class family, which is like having one foot in the grave... so, I guess you could call that semi-retired.

Also, most of my life I've had my own business, so I make my own hours...I pick the ten hours a day, seven days a week, I want to work.

Mar. 19 2013 12:22 PM
Peg from self employment land

To your guest: Ability IS NOT ageless. At 62, I am nowhere near as physically or intellectually capable as I was even 10 years ago.

Mar. 19 2013 09:29 AM
Dorian from New York

Your guests and a commenter had it right: Yes, we need work that sustains us in more than a financial way. That way we won't ever *want* to "retire." And there's a cultural, I would even say societal, mismatch: The idea that it's younger people who get trained, and those who are a couple decades older are fixed, are set, is wrong and damaging to all sides.

Mar. 19 2013 09:27 AM

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