The Top 10 Reasons Americans Do Not Retire

Senior worker in a library
LightField Studios /

Older workers are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. labor market. The share of workers ages 65 to 74 and beyond is expected to keep growing through at least 2024, 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 gray wave in the workplace.

We consulted the latest annual retirement survey of workers by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies to uncover the top reasons why older Americans are working past the traditional retirement age.

10. Personal development

Older woman working
Vadym Pastukh /

Share of older Americans who give this reason: 22%

Not all the reasons why older 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.

Older workers seem to favor jobs with flexibility and independence: Workers 65 and older comprise more than 16% of the self-employed workforce, the BLS study found.

9. Maintain social connections

Two women working
Monkey Business Images /

Share of older Americans who give this reason: 25%

Work brings people together who might otherwise never meet. Workplace camaraderie helps us boost our spirits and feel connected.

AARP profiled an 81-year-old UPS driver who had no plans to retire anytime soon. The man takes pride in his on-time deliveries and relishes working because he enjoys connections with customers and fellow delivery drivers.

8. Need health benefits

Man getting heart checked
Nattakorn_Maneerat /

Share of older Americans who give this reason: 26%

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

Upset senior woman writing a check

Share of older Americans who give this reason: 29%

“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 tells CBS News.

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 the Money Talks News Retirement Course.

6. Concern that Social Security will be less than expected

Worried senior couple reviewing documents
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Share of older Americans who give this reason: 31%

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 2021 is $1,118.94 per month for those age 62 (when most people claim benefits).

For a small, one-time fee, our partner Social Security Choices will analyze your situation and show you how to maximize your benefits.

4. Have a sense of purpose (tie)

Worker repairing a watch
Daniel Wiedemann /

Share of older Americans who give this reason: 40%

“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 traditional retirement age.

4. Enjoy what I do (tie)

A black senior man drives a forklift at work
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Share of older Americans who give this reason: 40%

Enjoying their work is a big motivator for older workers.

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
  • Clergy
  • Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers
  • Legislators
  • Medical transcriptionists
  • Proofreaders
  • Real estate brokers and sales agents
  • Tax preparers
  • Travel agents

3. Keep my brain alert

Older worker

Share of older Americans who give this reason: 47%

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. Want the income

Older couple working on a budget
aslysun /

Share of older Americans who give this reason: 53%

Money is not the only reason that older workers are still on the job. But, as we have seen, it is enormously important. More than half of the Transamerica survey’s respondents say money is why they keep working after 65.

1. Be active

Senior woman working in coffee shop
Tyler Olson /

Share of older Americans who give this reason: 54%

The four generations surveyed by Transamerica researchers all ranked highly the idea that work keeps them “active.”

A sizable 55% of the baby boomers said that staying active was a strong motivator for working beyond age 65.

Sixty percent of the Generation Z workers said staying active would be a reason to work when they are retirement age, as did 51% of millennials and 54% of Generation X workers.

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