Could older Americans work longer if they had to? The answer is yes, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study of the work capacity of people aged 55 or older.
The authors ask this question: "If people with a given mortality rate today worked as much as those with the same mortality rate in the past, how much could they work?" The answer: a lot. Among 55-to-59-year-olds today, 70.5 percent are in the labor force. But if they worked as much as the people of 1977 with the equivalent mortality rate, then a much larger 86.0 percent would be employed. Among 60-to-64-year-olds the employment rate would rise from 56.2 to 83.2 percent. Among 65-to-69-year-olds, the figure would rise from 32.3 to 74.1 percent.
"Employment declines rapidly as workers reach their 60s, while health declines steadily but quite gradually with age," say the researchers. "The fact that health does not plummet along with employment suggests that there are reasons other than health for the employment declines, such as the availability of Social Security," they conclude.
Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, Health Capacity to Work at Older Ages: Evidence from the U.S., Working Paper 21940