6 Ways America’s Oldest Workers Have Changed

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Older female executive worker
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The number of older folks who work is surging.

Today, 19% of people 65 and older are working, nearly double the percentage of 35 years ago, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.

As the share of older workers has swelled, major changes have become evident among workers in this age group. Here are several ways America’s oldest workers have changed in recent decades.

They are growing in number

Senior worker
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There has been an increase in both the share of people age 65 and older who are working and the total number of folks in this age group who hold a job.

As mentioned, 19% of folks 65 and older work in 2023, compared with 11% in 1987. That is a total of more than 11 million people — nearly four times the number of seniors who were working in the mid-1980s.

They are working more hours

Older black worker driving a forklift
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Workers 65 and older are logging more hours on the job than in the past. Nearly two-thirds of older workers — 62% — work full time today. In 1987, it was less than half of such workers (47%).

Their earning power has increased

Older worker with money
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Today’s older workers also are putting more money in their pockets when they work. Using 2022 dollars as the benchmark, workers earned a median wage of $13 an hour in 1987. By 2022, that had jumped to $22 an hour.

Meanwhile, earnings for younger workers have not increased as much. That means the wage gap between workers 65 and older and those ages 25 to 64 is much narrower than it once was. Once again using 2022 dollars as the benchmark, Pew states:

“In 1964, the average annual earnings of workers ages 65 and older were 19% of the average earnings of workers ages 25 to 64: $5,200 vs. $26,900, respectively. By 1987, the earnings gap had narrowed to 56%. And today, the average older worker earns 80% of the average annual earnings of younger workers ($58,600 vs. $73,700).”

They are contributing more to the workforce

Older worker
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Given the previous factors — more older workers logging more hours and earning more pay — older workers’ overall contribution to the nation’s labor force has grown notably. In 1987, workers 65 and older accounted for just 2% of all wages and salaries that U.S. employers paid. By 2023, that share had more than tripled, to 7%.

They are more likely to receive benefits

Older worker
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A major benefit of working later into life is the ability to tap into benefits. About 36% of workers aged 65 and older now have access to an employer- or union-sponsored retirement plan, up from 33% in 1987.

While that might seem like a small increase, it looks much more significant when you consider that younger workers are losing access to such plans. In 2023, 41% of younger workers had access to a retirement plan, down from 55% in 1987.

They are more likely to have a 4-year degree

Older woman working remotely
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In 1987, just 18% of older workers had a bachelor’s degree. Today, that number has more than doubled, to 44%.

Are you a senior looking for work? Make sure you avoid the pitfalls in “9 Ways To Screw Up a Job Search When You’re 50 or Older.”

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