Working Longer in the United States: Trends and Explanations
Over the past two decades, labor force participation rates for older men have been rising, reversing a century-long trend towards earlier retirement. Participation rates for older women are rising as well. A number of theories have been put forward to explain the rise in participation at older ages, including improving mortality and health, increasing education and a shift towards less physically demanding work, and changes in employer-provided benefits and Social Security. This paper documents trends in labor force participation and employment at older ages and in the factors that may be contributing to rising participation. A review of these trends and of the relevant literature suggests that increases in education, women’s growing role in the economy, the shift from defined benefit to defined contribution pension plans, and Social Security reforms all likely played some role in the trend towards longer work lives.