Do People Work Longer When They Live Longer?

Mar 19, 2021 / Amanda Chase, Horsesmouth Associate Editor

Life expectancy continues to rise, and retirement ages have been increasing since the 1960s. Many significant developments are behind the dramatic shift in retirement habits, including the decline of private-sector pensions, changing attitudes about working women, and bigger financial incentives from Social Security for people who remain in the labor force in order to get a larger monthly check when they finally retire. Given all of these changes, Urban Institute researchers wondered whether the dramatic longevity gains experienced by the people who make it to their 50s and 60s could be counted as another reason for the delayed retirement trend.

Their evidence suggests that growing lifespans are keeping men over age 55 in the labor force longer and postponing their retirement, particularly in areas with strong job markets and more opportunity. But women’s behavior was much more nuanced. Their labor force participation also increased, but only for women under 65 and to a much smaller extent than men. For the oldest women in the study—ages 65 to 74—the results were puzzling to the researchers because labor force participation actually declined with life expectancy for those in the bottom half of the income distribution.

This isn’t the first research to link longevity to retirement timing. For example, in a 2014 study, people who expected to live longer—based on their parents’ longevity—also worked longer. The new study instead used average life expectancy, based on death certificate data in U.S. Census commuting zones, to determine its effect on labor force participation among the older populations in each zone. The study covered a short period—2011 through 2015—to capture a time when everyone was operating under roughly the same national economic conditions.

You can find this article and more information about the research paper at the Squared Away Blog.


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