Not Just the Money

Posted Wednesday, February 5th, 2014| Comments (9) rule
Why record numbers of older workers don’t retire
Elizabeth F. Fideler’s book Men Still at Work: Professionals Over Sixty and On the Job has just been published by Rowman & Littlefield. Its companion—Women Still at Work: Professionals Over Sixty and On the Job—was published in 2012, also by Rowman & Littlefield. Her blog post, “Women Working Late,” appeared on this site in September, 2012.

Elizabeth F. Fideler, EdD
Research Fellow
Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College


Seniors who are able to keep working and want to do so—who enjoy and get satisfaction from the challenge—deserve to be recognized, understood, and celebrated, especially on the job.

Just last year, the New York Times published profiles of two prominent scientists in their 90s who are still working and contributing to their fields. There’s nutrition scientist Fred Kummerow, age 99, who directs laboratory research at the University of Illinois and publishes papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals. And there’s neuropsychologist Brenda Milner, age 95, who studies differences between the left and right brain at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital.

Outliers? Perhaps. But these people are also the leading edge of a new phenomenon: bypassing the conventional age of retirement to continue working.

The average retirement age in the United States has been ticking upwards, from 57 in 1993 to 59 in 2003 and now to 61, according to Gallup’s annual Economy and Personal Finance survey. Moreover, Gallup found, more than half of those between the ages of 58 and 64 who are still working expect to continue beyond the age of 65. Indeed, the fastest-growing segment of the labor force (by rate of increase) is women who are 65 and older, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Men in this age group are close behind.

Among the reasons for these shifts are the economic downturn, which diminished retirement savings; laws eliminating most mandatory retirement; the gradual increase in the age of eligibility for Social Security; and the fact that many baby boomers entering their 60s are ill-prepared for retirement.

But improvements in health and longevity also play a role, allowing seniors who simply love what they do to keep at it.

Last July, Kimberly Blanton described the surprising results of a recent study in the blog she writes for the Center for Retirement Research, at Boston College. She commented, “By the time people reach their mid-60s, two out of three have retired, either voluntarily or because they’re unable to keep or find a job. By age 75, nine out of ten are out of the labor force. But the minority who do continue working aren’t just survivors—they’re thrivers.” What’s more, she observed, this group is dominated by highly educated, high-achieving professionals who, contrary to stereotypes, are as productive (measured by hourly wages) as younger workers in their prime earning years.

The research I conducted for my two most recent books reveals that mature professional men tend to define themselves, as their fathers did, by what they do for a living and the career goals they have reached. Female professionals who came of age in the same period (from the 1950s to the 1970s) tend to define themselves first in the roles associated with their homes, families, and collegial relationships and then as career women. Other differences, including choice of career field, number of years on the job, and pay inequities, frequently result in greater financial security for older men than for older women.

Now, my research shows, having met disparate traditional educational, social, and economic expectations over the years, mature professional women and men find themselves on the same path in their work lives, blazing it and opening up new territory as they age.

9 responses to “Not Just the Money”

  1. Peggy Maguire says:

    Elizabeth, thank you for your thoughtful and thorough article. I can relate as I am age 62 and in career & job transition. Otherwise known as unemployed. I began working in 1968 (46 years ago), my junior year in high school to save $ for college. I prefer not to “early retire” if fortunate to find another rewarding job. Then, I’d like to work for at least two to four more years and perhaps even longer depending on work satisfaction. Fortunately I’ve had a few recent phone interviews. I look forward to the future of meaningful professional work once again and replenishing my rainy day funds.

  2. Elizabeth Fideler says:

    Peggy, I appreciate your interest in my AGEnda blog and am glad you found it relevant to your current transitional situation and your future plans. Job satisfaction and good health are key to staying on the job past conventional retirement age. Best wishes!

  3. Kathy Kadilak says:

    Thank you for your interesting commentary on older workers (seniors and boomers) and the current trend towards later retirement. I am 61, retired from the Federal service in 2007, and have continued in the workforce as a consultant. I’m also pursuing an encore career in mediation work — an interesting and satisfying endeavor. It is energizing to learn something new and at the same time be able to apply the knowledge and experience of my previous career to this new one! I suspect many older workers feel that way, too.

  4. Elizabeth Fideler says:

    Kathy, it sounds like you have found just the right balance for yourself. Your use of the words “interesting,” “satisfying,” “energizing,” “learn something new,” “apply knowledge and experience” says it all. Nice going!

  5. Jessica Lang says:

    No matte what age, everyone would like to be recognized for the job that they are doing.

  6. Heidi Kehren says:

    I am very happy to run into your article. I myself am not even close to 60 but my grandma is 70 and loves going to work everyday. She works about 30-40 hours a week. My family keeps trying to talk her into retirement but she is strong set on working everyday Monday-Friday. I am excited to show my grandma this article. My grandma is not working because she financially has to she works because she loves what she does and she loves to interact with all different people.

  7. Rachel Voigt says:

    Retiring at age 65 is a stereotype and as long as they love their, let them work until they are ready to retire.

  8. Joanna Carlson says:

    I think it depends on the type of work that you are in that depends on wither you can keep on working into your 70’s. Someone who has done construction or worked in a factory type setting all there life may not have that opportunity. If someone who had a good job that wasn’t hard labor then I would think they would have better chances at working past age of 62. However, it was an enjoyable read.

  9. Elizabeth Fideler says:

    Go, Grandma of Heidi! and all other older men and women choosing to continue working at a job or in a career they enjoy and find rewarding–in every sense of the word.