Why Are Boomers Working Longer?

I recently ran across an interesting article about boomer retirement. The author, James J. Green of Summit Business Media, summarizes a report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. In 1993, 29.4% of adults 55 and older were in the workforce, a percentage that increased to 40.3% in 2013. For those age 55-64, increased labor-force participation occurred among women but not men, while, for those 65 and older, both women and men were working more.

Are aging adults working longer out of necessity or desire? Maybe it’s a little of each. The EBRI report notes that some older adults stay in the workforce to build retirement account balances or to maintain access to health insurance. Thus, longer workforce participation may be partly attributable to businesses eliminating pensions and reducing retirement packages for departing workers. The report also mentions that some prospective retirees stay in the workplace to pay down debt. Undoubtedly the severe recession of the late 2000s contributed to the debt that now has to be managed.

But working out of necessity is only part of the picture. Green quotes the EBRI report as follows: “Many Americans also want to work longer, especially those with more education for whom more meaningful jobs are available that can be performed into older ages.” The EBRI noted that “the increase in the percentage of those 55 or older in the labor force increased with the high incidence of more highly educated people in this age group.”

Having earned two advanced degrees in psychology, I’m one of the “more highly educated people in this age group.” I certainly can attest to the appeal of the jobs available to me at this point. I can work as a therapist, helping the disheartened to flourish once again. Or I can teach college students, imparting information and skills they will be carrying forward when my days as a porter for knowledge are done. What could be more meaningful than those two opportunities? The jobs that my education qualifies me for also “can be performed into older ages.” I wouldn’t last long as a laborer, an assembly line worker, a longshoreman, or a lumberjack. Thankfully, I should be able to perform job functions such as conversing, note keeping, lecturing, and grading for many more years.

Methodist University, where I worked until two years ago.

Methodist University, where I worked until two years ago.

I had expected to be working full-time even as I approached my full Social Security retirement age of 66, but I’m not. I moved from full-time to part-time work almost two years ago. Many of the hours I thought would be devoted to work are instead devoted to helping my parents. My decision to make major career changes for the sake of family illustrates that Boomers’ decisions about work can be affected by factors besides our retirement account balances and the availability of meaningful jobs. Families matter too, as do lifestyle issues such as how we want to spend our remaining years. I consider myself fortunate to have the choice of whether I work or not; so many others are much more constrained than I am by needs and circumstances.

About Bob Ritzema

I am a fourth-generation American of Dutch ancestry and am trained as a clinical psychologist. In 2012, I retired from Methodist University in North Carolina to return to . Michigan to help family, and, in 2023, I started again with a move to Milwaukee to be near my children. I maintain a part-time therapy practice. I can be reached at bobritzema@hotmail.com.
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