While we may not be the dominating power pack we once were, baby boomers and older Gen-Xers are still a force to be reckoned in the workplace, as the collection of statistics that follows shows.
The numbers bear out what you probably already know from personal experience: Older workers are staying on the job longer, both by choice and due to necessity, helped by a strong economy and employer demand that outstrips the supply of experienced, skilled workers. And, happily, companies and co-workers alike seem to recognize the knowledge and experience their older colleagues contribute.
But as the stats also show, workers who are 50 and older still often face serious challenges—both on a macro level, as industries change and contract, and on a personal one, as layoffs and health issues sometimes get in the way of the desire to stay on the job. Then too, there’s the 800-pound gorilla in the mix: old-fashioned ageism, which may be the toughest obstacle of them all.
Here is a portrait of workers aged 50 and up in today’s workplace, as revealed by recent surveys and research.
THE BIG PICTURE
Baby boomers currently in the workforce
Sure, there’s been a substantial drop in the number of boomers in the workforce over the past two decades. At its peak in 1997, there were a whopping 66 million working boomers, a number the Pew Research Center says is unlikely to be surpassed even by millennials. But the generation born between 1946 and 1964 still makes up a quarter of the total working population in the U.S, behind millennials (56 million) and Gen Xers (53 million).
Unemployment rate for workers 55 and older
In contrast to the dismal picture of the employment prospects for older workers that is often painted, employees 55 and up actually have a lower rate of unemployment than the national average of 3.9%, according to the latest government numbers. Workers ages 45 to 54 have the lowest unemployment rate of all, at 2.9%. (What happens if you do lose your job is a different story, as later stats will show.)
The most typical length of the work week for employees 45 and older
Whether the hours are the traditional 9-to-5 or some other configuration, roughly a third of workers ages 45 and up say they put in a 40-hour work week, the most popular answer by far. Nearly a quarter are toiling even longer, including one in five who say they’re working 50 or more hours a week.
Older workers whose jobs are with an employer other than themselves
Although the ranks of older entrepreneurs are growing, most people 45 and up still work for The Man—or The Woman. Only 16% own their own business or work for themselves, according to a 2018 AARP workforce study.
Weekly salary of the average worker age 55 or older
Reflecting their climb into the peak earning years and just beyond, older workers, on average, earn substantially more than younger ones aged 25 to 34, who pull in $794 a week, according to the latest BLS data. But the averages belie big differences by race and gender: White workers were the highest earners among older employees, at $1,042 a week, vs. $743 for black workers. Men, meanwhile, brought home $250 more a week than female workers 55 and older.
Older workers citing finances as the key reason they continue in their careers
Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed by AARP earlier this year indicated they stay in the workforce for financial reasons: 42% said they need the money; 12% cited the need to support other family members; and 10% had to save more for retirement before they can call it quits. Just one in 10 said they keep working is because they enjoy their jobs—the top non-financial reason given.
Percentage of employers and workers with positive views of older workers
The vast majority of employers and employees cite one or more positive perceptions of the value that older workers contribute to the enterprise. Among the most common cited by bosses: that older workers bring more knowledge and experience (59%), are more responsible and reliable (54%), and are a valuable resource for training and mentoring (49%).
THE CHALLENGES WE FACE
Workers ages 45 to 74 who have seen or experienced age discrimination
That nearly two thirds of older workers have first-hand knowledge of age discrimination is bad enough. But in a #MeToo world, it’s looking like an even tougher problem for women: Seventy-two percent of female workers in a 2018 AARP survey said they were personally familiar with age discrimination in the workplace, compared to 57% of men.
Tech workers ages 50 to 55 who worry their age will hold them back
The fast-changing technology field is one where ageism has long loomed as a big concern. Nearly nine in 10 workers in their early 50s are concerned about age being a barrier to landing a new job. And 68% of boomers feel discouraged about even applying for a new job because of their age.
Almost 34 weeks
Average time out of work for unemployed people ages 55 to 64
While older workers are more likely than younger ones to be employed, when they do lose their jobs, they face a tougher road to finding a new one. Their average period of unemployment is the longest of any age bracket and compares to a national average of 22 weeks.
One in 10
Workers 45 and older who have lost a job within the past five years
Unfortunately, job loss is not an uncommon experience for many older workers. According to AARP, 13% of those 45 and up have been unemployed within the past five years.
The percentage of employers who have negative perceptions of older workers
Despite some of the positive things that bosses and managers have to say about workers 50 and older, they also have a lot of negative perceptions. Chief among them, according to a Transamerica report: that older employees have higher healthcare costs, higher salaries, and are less open to learning new ideas than younger workers. Just as bad: 54% of their fellow workers share those concerns.
17 percentage points
The gap between what employers think older employees need to do to keep working and what older employees are actually doing
Keeping their skills up to date is critical for older employees who want to keep working until and beyond age 65, say 63% of employers. And yet only 46% of older workers say that they are taking steps to do that.
64 years old
The age at which some employers think job candidates are “too old” to hire
Nearly two-thirds of employers say whether prospective employees are “too old” to hire depends on the person. But among the 24% who cited a specific age, the median response was 64 years old. Asked when a person is “too old” to work, those who gave a specific age put 70 years old as the median.
RUNNING OUR OWN SHOW
Percentage of people launching new businesses who are 55 to 64 years old
New entrepreneurs are fairly evenly divided among four age brackets: ages 20 to 34, 35 to 44, 45 to 54 and 55 to 64. By contrast, 20 years ago, only 15% of new entrepreneurs were in the oldest of the four age groups. But overall, older entrepreneurs dominate: 54% of small business owners are baby boomers, according to a 2018 report by Guidant Financial.
The percentage of current and and aspiring entrepreneurs over age 50 who are motivated by the desire to “be my own boss”
Contrary to the popular belief that older entrepreneurs are forced into working for themselves by a layoff, the most common motivation for starting a business among owners over 50 was simply that they were “ready to be my own boss,” followed closely by wanting “to pursue my passion.”
Boomers participating in the gig economy
This figure includes 11% of boomers working solely in the gig economy, 6% who are supplementing their full-time or part-time pay and 9% who are mostly retired. The gig-economy participation is lower than Gen Xers, at 32%, but higher than millennials, at 19%.
Boomers who say they like being part of the gig economy, vs. 72% of Gen-Xers and 75% of millennials
Older freelance and contract workers are more likely than younger ones to enjoy what they’re doing. That’s a good thing, especially since they’re also more likely to be working for themselves because they feel it’s their best or only option: 43% of boomers in a T. Rowe Price survey earlier this year said they were freelancing out of necessity, vs. 33% of Gen-Xers and only 23% of millennials.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
The age at which 29% of the boomers still in the workplace plan to retire
That is the most common timeframe cited, followed by age 65 to 69 (26% of working boomers) and before 65 (25%). Twenty percent say they don’t know. The plan to keep working to 70 or older could be problematic if people are depending on that tenure to ensure financial security; illness, family needs, or job loss often force people out of the workforce before they intended.
Boomers planning to work part-time in retirement
Even when it’s over, it may not be over: The majority of boomers plan to at least keep a hand in the workforce once they retire, whether working part-time or, as 8% indicate, full-time. Only 27% of boomers don’t plan to work at all.
Nine out of 10
Older workers who say staying mentally active is their motivation for working in retirement
This was the top reason cited in the 2018 AARP survey among people 45 and older who plan to work for pay, either full or part time, in retirement. “To earn extra money to buy the things I want” was the next most popular answer (87%), followed by 83% who said they enjoy working.
Retirement savings accumulated by 25% of boomer households
You’ve heard the dire reports of boomers’ complete lack of financial preparedness for retirement, but it’s not all bad: A quarter have socked away a cool half million or more in 401(k)s, IRAs, and similar accounts. Another 17% have saved between $200,000 and $500,000. Now for the glass half empty version: 43% of boomers have $100,000 or less set aside for retirement.
2.5 trillion hours
The amount of leisure time retirees will have over the next 20 years
Despite the large numbers of older workers who say they’ll continue to work even after they officially retire, these folks will likely have a lot of free time to enjoy, according to an Age Wave/Merrill Lynch report. The good news: Retirees seem to really enjoy their newfound leisure. The sweet spot seems to be ages 61 to 75, which the report dubbed the “freedom zone,” where retirees enjoy the greatest balance of health, free time, fun, and emotional well-being.
Additional reporting by Jessica Dysart