EBRI Issue Brief

The Work and Retirement Patterns of Older Americans

Dec 1, 1991 22  pages


  • Although most persons are employed in lengthy jobs during their prime working years, nearly 6 in 10 workers leave career employment before age 60.
  • Almost two-thirds of workers remain in the labor force following the end of their longest held job, and more than one-third work for 10 years or more.
  • About one-quarter of household heads reverse initial retirement decisions, and more than one in four partial retirees also reverse this status.
  • Men aged 55–64 were less than three-quarters as likely to be working in 1988 as in 1948; for those aged 65 and over, the figure was one-third.
  • Among women aged 65 and over, 7.9 percent were in the labor force in 1988, compared with 9.1 percent in 1948.
  • There is clear evidence that Social Security incentives cause moderate reductions in the labor supply among workers reaching age 62.
  • Among workers over age 55, 24.5 percent worked part time in 1968, compared with 29.4 percent in 1987.
  • Partial retirement rarely occurs among persons under age 62, increases rapidly between age 62 and age 67, and then gradually declines.
  • Worsening health accounts for little, if any, of the trend toward earlier retirement.