Boomer Career Trends: The Graying of America’s Work Force

by Meg Guiseppi on November 20, 2009


We’ve all been hearing lately that boomers are staying in the workforce longer because their retirement accounts took such a hit recently, and that we can expect the trend to continue well after the economy recovers.

According to one government estimate, 93% of the growth in the U.S. labor force from 2006 to 2016 will be among 55 and older workers.

But you may be surprised to know that the majority of those over 55 stay at work beyond retirement age because they want to stay active into their later years, not because they need the money.

According to a September 2009 nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project:

“A majority (54%) of workers ages 65 and older say the main reason they work is that they want to. Just 17% say the main reason is that they need the paycheck. An additional 27% say they’re motivated by a mix of desire and need.”

The reasons older workers gave included:

  • “to feel useful”
  • “to give myself something to do”
  • “to be with other people”

Conversely, younger adults are staying out of the workforce longer.

Of Americans aged 16 to 24, 57% are in the labor force today, compared to 66% in 2000.

Two factors impacting the youngest working group:

  • Instead of diving into full time jobs, they’re getting a college education under their belts to get ahead, and
  • Discouraged by dwindling opportunities in this economy, they’re dropping out of the job market entirely.

The Pew report is based on analysis of long-term trends in survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Pew Research’s own survey of a representative national sample of 1,815 people ages 16 and older conducted from July 20 to Aug. 2, 2009.

Other key findings:

  • Security trumps salary.
  • Despite tough times, job satisfaction remains high.
  • Older workers are the happiest workers.
  • Retirement is not always voluntary.
  • Even so, retirement gets high marks.
  • The public is skeptical about full-time working moms.
  • Most working moms would rather have a part-time job.

You can grab the full report here: Recession Turns a Graying Office Grayer.

Related posts:

Baby Boomer Career Reinvention: Moving Toward Working Your Passion

Baby Boomer Executives Afraid of LinkedIn and Social Media

Baby Boomers Are Career Transitioning. The World of Work After 50

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 JP McDermott November 20, 2009 at 10:42 am

St. Mary’s College Graduate School of Business recently hosted two events targeting people in transition, the majority in the demographic you describe. Of a sample of about 150, the statistics cited seem to match fairly well the Pew report conclusions.

While many cannot find meaningful work right now, they have no intention of quitting the search, for the reasons mentioned: some need income, others simply want to continue in meaningful work, others want to give back and share their experiences by starting new careers, volunteering in lower paying jobs or finding new areas they can be entrepreneurs.

2 Meg Guiseppi November 20, 2009 at 12:11 pm

JP, thanks for your thoughtful comments and continued re-tweet support. Greatly appreciated!


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