NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Health and Work at Older Ages: Using Mortality to Assess the Capacity to Work across Countries

Kevin S. Milligan, David A. Wise

NBER Working Paper No. 18229
Issued in July 2012
NBER Program(s):   AG

Health and longevity have increased substantially over the last 50 years, yet the labor force participation of older men has declined in most developed countries. We use mortality as a measure of health to assess the capacity to work at older ages in 12 OECD countries. For a given level of mortality, the employment rates of older workers vary substantially across countries and over time within countries. At each mortality rate in 2007, if American men between the ages of 55 and 69 had worked as much as American men in 1977 they would have worked an additional 3.7 years between ages 55 and 69. That is, men in this age range in 2007 would have had to work 46.8 percent more to work as much as men with the same mortality worked thirty years earlier in 1977. Comparing across countries, at each mortality rate in 2007, to match the work of American men, French men for example would have to work 4.6 years more between the ages 55 to 69 than they actually did work. We also find that there is little relationship across countries between mortality improvements and the change in employment at older ages.

A non-technical summary of this paper is available in the 2012 number 3 issue of the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health. You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

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This paper was revised on February 7, 2014

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