Older workers are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. labor market. The share of workers ages 65 and beyond is expected to keep growing, and account for more than half of expected overall labor growth from 2021 to 2031, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says.
But if you think money is why people are working past age 65, you’d be only partly correct. In fact, many intriguing motives are behind this workplace trend.
We consulted the latest annual retirement survey of workers by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies to uncover the following top reasons why Americans are working or plan to work past the traditional retirement age.
12. Anxious about volatility in financial markets and investment performance
Share of workers who give this reason: 16%
The idea of the economy tanking just as you retire is a nightmare scenario. While nobody can time the market, there are ways to plan and cope for retiring in a downturn.
11. Concern that employer retirement benefits will be less than expected
Share of workers who give this reason: 17%
Uncertainty can be a strong motivator. Make sure you’re getting as much out of your employer as you can by always investing at least the maximum company match — otherwise you’re ignoring free money.
10. Personal development
Share of workers who give this reason: 18%
Not all the reasons why workers stay on the job involve finances.
Work can provide professional and personal growth that stimulates and satisfies, and many people aren’t ready to leave that behind — at least not yet.
9. Maintain social connections
Share of workers who give this reason: 25%
Work brings people together who might otherwise never meet. Workplace camaraderie helps us boost our spirits and feel connected.
A few years ago, AARP profiled an 81-year-old UPS driver who had no plans to retire anytime soon. The man said he takes pride in his on-time deliveries and relishes working because he enjoys connections with customers and fellow delivery drivers.
8. Need health benefits
Share of workers who give this reason: 27%
You may want to quit working, work part-time or become self-employed, but you are probably out of luck if you don’t yet qualify for Medicare, the federal health insurance program primarily for folks age 65 and older.
The lucky among us have medical coverage through a spouse’s job or (rarely) have a severance package with medical benefits until age 65. Less lucky are those who have to seek out and purchase private insurance coverage to fill the gap until they can get Medicare.
Otherwise, you could be among the 1 in 6 Americans insured through their job who stay for those medical benefits even though they would prefer to leave, according to Gallup.
7. Can’t afford to retire because I haven’t saved enough
Share of workers who give this reason: 31%
“Most of the older people who working after age 65 are working because their pension income and retirement plan wealth is nonexistent or very low,” Teresa Ghilarducci, labor economist and professor at the New School for Social Research, told CBS News in 2019.
If you’re having trouble making ends meet in retirement, it could be a sign that it’s time to unretire. To be certain you have the money you need to retire, check out Money Talks News' retirement course.
6. Concern that Social Security will be less than expected
Share of workers who give this reason: 33%
Social Security is not meant to provide enough money to cover all your financial needs in retirement (although it can be done).
The average Social Security benefits check in 2023 was $1,848 per month.
5. Have a sense of purpose
Share of workers who give this reason: 36%
“When you have 20 years left, you still want something to do in your life right? Work can give you some purpose in life in those 20 years,” one woman told a focus group in a study into why European workers work past the traditional retirement age.
4. Enjoy what I do
Share of workers who give this reason: 39%
Enjoying their work is a big motivator for older workers in particular.
The BLS finds that workers 55 and older gravitate to certain types of work. Among these occupations are:
- Bus drivers
- Archivists, curators and museum technicians
- Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers
- Medical transcriptionists
- Real estate brokers and sales agents
- Tax preparers
- Travel agents
3. Keep my brain alert
Share of workers who give this reason: 42%
After a lifetime spent acquiring skills, it is understandably hard for many people to give up the mental stimulation of work.
As a 68-year-old worker told the researchers studying older European workers: “If you are working, you have to stay active and use your brains.”
2. Be active
Share of workers who give this reason: 50%
While staying active was not the overall top reason in the survey to continue working, it was the top healthy-aging reason. Check out “20 of the Best Part-Time Jobs for Retirees” for ideas that might appeal to you.
1. Want the income
Share of workers who give this reason: 52%
Money is not the only reason that workers stay or plan to stay on the job past age 65. But, as we have seen, it is enormously important. More than half of the Transamerica survey’s respondents say money is why they keep or plan to keep working after 65.