MPIDR Working Paper

Recent trends in US working life expectancy at age 50 by gender, education, and race/ethnicity and the impact of the Great Recession

Dudel, C., Myrskylä, M.

MPIDR Working Paper WP-2016-006, 39 Seiten (August 2016).
Rostock, Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung


A key concern about population aging is the decline in the size of the economically active population. Working longer is a potential remedy. However, little is known about the length of working lives. We use the US Health and Retirement Study for 1992-2011 and multistate life tables to analyze working life expectancy at age 50 by gender, race/ethnicity, and education. Despite declines of 1-2 years following the Great Recession, in 2008-2011 American men aged 50 still spent 13 years, or two-fifths of their remaining life, working; while American women of the same age spent 11 years, or one-third of their remaining life, in employment. At age 50, the working life expectancy of college-educated individuals is twice as long as that of individuals with no high school education, and the working life expectancy of whites is one-third longer than that of blacks or Hispanics. These differentials are driven by labor force attachment, not mortality. Although educational differences have been stable over the past 20 years, racial differences started changing after the onset of the Great Recession. Our results show that while Americans generally work longer than people in other countries, there is considerable sub-population heterogeneity. We also find that the time trends are fluctuating, which may prove troublesome as the population ages. Policies targeting the weakest performing groups may be needed to increase the total population trends.