February 25, 2024

An older white man looking pensive.

Image: Bosnian (Shutterstock)

Older workers are contributing more to the economy than ever.

Most baby boomers—members of the second-largest generation in the US—are now 65 or older, qualifying them as “older workers” if they still hold jobs, according to a Pew Research study released Thursday (Dec. 13). Boomers have opted to stay in the workforce rather than retire, partly thanks to changes in social security benefits that raised the retirement age to 67 for workers born after 1960. In addition, many people who retired early during the pandemic returned to jobs starting in late 2021.

The generation has driven major growth in the share of older workers in the labor force. In 2023, the older workforce rose to quadruple the size it was in the mid-1980s, the study found. About one in every five Americans over the age of 65 were employed in 2023.

The rise of “age-friendly” jobs with more flexibility and less strenuous physical work involved have also helped this group remain in the labor market, Pew noted. These senior employees are working more hours than in the past: 62% of older workers are employed full-time, compared to 47% in 1987. And they’re expected to account for nearly 60% of all labor force growth over the next decade, according to the study.

As a result of their sheer numbers, longer hours, and a narrowing wage gap between old and young workers, senior Americans contribute more to the economy than they did 35 years ago. Older workers’ earnings made up 7% of all wages and salaries paid by US employers this year, compared to just 2% in the 1980s.

Older workers by the digits

11 million: The number of older workers in the US labor force.

62%: The share of employees over 65 who work full-time (defined as 35 hours a week or more).

$58,600: The average annual earnings of older workers, about 25% less than those for workers ages 25 to 64.

75%: The share of employees over 65 who are white. Younger cohorts in the labor force are more diverse, though most of them (59%) are white. However, the share of Black and Hispanic workers in both groups has been rising since the 1980s.

95 million: The number of Americans who will be 65 or older by 2060.

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