EBRI Issue Brief

Demographic and Employment Shifts: Implications for Benefits and Economic Security

Aug 1, 1993 24  pages


  • This Issue Brief examines factors affecting the population's age distribution and composition, such as mortality rates, fertility rates, and immigration. In addition, it examines factors affecting labor force composition, such as immigration, increased labor force participation of women, and retirement trends, and discusses the potential impact of these changes on publicly financed programs: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and federal employee retirement systems. The discussion also highlights the implications of these population and labor force changes on employers, employees, and retirees.
  • The elderly population—now 31.8 million, representing 12.6 percent of the population—is projected to experience tremendous growth between 2010 and 2030, when the baby boom generation reaches age 65, rising from 39.7 million, or 13.3 percent of the population, to 69.8 million, or 20.2 percent of the population. Growth in the elderly population has implications for retirement and health care systems.
  • Population projections suggest that the traditionally pyramid-shaped work force, with a proportionately greater number of younger workers than older workers, will be replaced with a more even age distribution. Consequently, significant and continued modifications to benefit packages, such as changes in compensation structures in which earnings automatically rise with age, are likely to occur.
  • Women's labor force participation began to accelerate in the mid-1950s, rising to 75 percent among women aged 25-44 in 1991, although there is some indication that this growth may be flattening. With women comprising a greater part of the labor force, employers will be encouraged to develop and implement programs to better accommodate their needs.
  • Increased life expectancy, a decreased percentage of entry level workers, changes in Social Security's normal retirement age from age 65 to age 67, and employer plans to raise the normal age of retirement or provide incentives to delay retirement, could raise the average age of retirement. However, other factors, such as poor health, other sources of retirement income, and individual preferences for retirement, could still dominate the retirement decision.
  • The combination of increased average life expectancy guaranteeing more years of retirement to finance and rising dependency ratios increases the future cost of Social Security financing. Medicare financing is also an important policy issue because the program is projected to experience financial difficulties in the short term, resulting from explosive health care costs. In addition, Medicaid expenditures are consuming increasing amount of shrinking state budget resources--a large portion of which is used to finance nursing home care for a growing elderly population.