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Older Adults' Labor Force Participation since 1993: A Decade and a Half of Growth

Publication Date: January 01, 2010
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Abstract

Labor force participation rates have increased sharply for older men and women over the past 16 years. Between 1993 and 2009, the share of adults working or looking for work increased 39 percent for men and 66 percent for women. In 2009, adults age 55 and older made up nearly a fifth of the nation’s labor force, the highest share since 1948 when these records began. The growth in senior participation rates added 3.2 million adults age 62 and older to the nation’s workforce in 2009, compared with the number who would have participated if rates remained at their 1993 levels.


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Introduction

The charts on the following pages show that labor force participation rates—the percentage of adults working or looking for work—increased sharply for older men and women between 1993 and 2009.

  • In 2009, adults age 55 and older made up 19 percent of the labor force, the highest share since the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began tracking age-specific participation rates in 1948.
  • Between 1993 and 2009, participation rates for men age 62 to 74 increased 10.7 percentage points, from 27.3 to 38.0 percent, a relative increase of 39 percent.
  • Female participation rates at age 62 to 74 increased 11.2 percentage points, from 16.9 percent in 1993 to 28.1 percent in 2009, a relative increase of 66 percent.
  • The growth in senior participation rates added 3.2 million adults age 62 and older to the nation’s workforce in 2009, compared with the number who would have participated if rates had remained at their 1993 levels.
  • Participation rates for both men and women age 62 and older increased in 2009, despite the weak labor market that reduced participation rates for adults younger than 62 and pushed the unemployment rate to its highest level since 1983.
  • Increased work incentives, improved health, and heightened concerns about the affordability of retirement boosted participation rates for older Americans.
    • Traditional employer-sponsored pension plans that usually encourage early retirement by failing to reward work at older ages have mostly disappeared in favor of age-neutral 401(k)- type plans.
    • Employer-sponsored retiree health plans are also disappearing, raising the cost of retiring before Medicare eligibility begins at age 65.
    • Recent Social Security reforms that increased the full retirement age, eliminated the retirement earnings test for workers past the full retirement age, and boosted credits for those who delay retirement also increased incentives to work longer.

The following graphs are based on data from the Current Population Survey, conducted monthly by the U.S. Census Bureau for the BLS. Detailed tables showing participation rates between 1948 and 2009 are available in the data appendix.

(End of excerpt. The entire fact sheet is available in PDF format.)


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