As the Eastern seaboard tries to find somewhere to put all this rain, besides on top of all the rain Irene left us, you might be looking for a good policy read to while away the dark and stormy night. Researchers Richard W. Johnson, Barbara A. Butrica, and Corina Mommaerts of the Urban Institute of have recently published the white paper, “Work and Retirement Patterns for the G.I. Generation, Silent Generation, and Early Boomers: Thirty Years of Change.”
The study was done with a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium (RRC) at Boston College. The paper/PDF can be .
The 2010 report follows a part of the so-called G.I. Generation (born 1913-1917), the Silent Generation (born 1931-37), and the Boomer Generation (1943-1947) as they make decisions about work and retirement after age 60. One of the striking changes over the last thirty-odd years is that older workers stay in the work force longer than their respective previous generations. They also are much more willing (and capable) to move in and out of retirement as economic circumstances demand.
The results show that early boomers worked longer than members of the Silent Generation, and that the pathways older workers follow out of the labor force have become more complex over time. The median retirement age for men was about one-half year higher in the 1943–47 cohort than in the 1933–37 cohort (62 vs. 61.5), but differences were more pronounced at older ages. By age 65, for example, 40 percent of early boomer men had not yet retired, compared with only 20 percent of Silent Generation men. Both male and female workers in the 1933–37 cohort were much less likely than their counterparts in the 1913–17 cohort to follow the traditional retirement path of exiting the labor force from full-time employment and never returning to work.
Changes in private/work-sponsored pensions is considered one of the major drivers of the longer careers of the Silent and especially the Boomer generations, as are improvements in the general health of older people in (post)industrial nations. Indeed,the expectation (not necessarily a welcome one) of working longer in life, even as health medians for middle-aged people were not favorable to a notably longer working life.
Yet a surprising trend in the report was that not only did the extent of formal education change the retirement ages of each generation, but the more the education, the longer one stayed in the work force. Better education is often associated with higher base pay rates and larger life-long income, but it also leads to longer careers.
The report also notes that the differences in education as linked to differences in retirement is found in both the Silent and Boomer Generations, and among men and women. Thus the formal educational aspects of much of twentieth-century American education – at least in this respect – has had similar influences on boys and girls, and across generations. Given the likelihood of a better-paying job throughout most of one’s career, the economic need to stay at work later in life seems not to be the driver.
Though the paper does not explore the ‘why’ of the link between better education and longer work life, might the connection be the sense of wellbeing, growth, and learning that an extended education provides? Or the desirability of retaining a pleasurable/better paying job at the end of formal education? Perhaps the skills that made one pursue higher education ensure success in the workplace as well?
The paper presents a wealth of demographic statistics pertinent to how and when Americans have retired over the last three decades, which means the reader can see how we retired in the boom of the mid/late 1990s and in the bust of the 2000s. Different nonprofit, charitable, and small-business concerns can then develop the goods and services that will prove of value to those heading to retirement over the next few years – whatever their generation and education.