How Does Occupational Access for Older Workers Differ by Education?



To assess the employment opportunities of older job-changers in the years prior to retirement, this study examines the how the breadth of occupations in which they find employment narrows as they age past their prime working years and how this differs by gender and educational attainment. The results indicate that workers who change jobs in their early 50s find employment in a reasonably similar set of occupations as prime-age workers, with opportunities narrowing at older ages. They also indicate that job opportunities broadened significantly for better-educated older workers since the late 1990s. While job opportunities now narrow significantly for less-educated men in their late 50s, this narrowing primarily occurs in the early 60s for women and better-educated men. In contrast to previous research, the study finds that employer policies that emphasize hiring from within are less important barriers to the hiring of older job-seekers. The study also finds that the narrowing of job opportunities is associated with a general decline in job quality as measured by median occupational earnings, a decline associated with differences in occupational skill requirements and the underlying economic environment. These results suggest that older hiring is not as limited to a select few occupations as it had been in previous decades, but that policy reforms aimed at increasing opportunities and improving labor market fluidity would be best served to focus on less-educated men.