Will People Be Healthy Enough to Work Longer?

Alicia H. MunnellMauricio Soto Alex Golub-Sass

WP#2008-11

Abstract

If Americans continue to retire at age 63, a great many will risk income shortfalls especially at older ages.  Because work directly increases current income, Social Security benefits, retirement saving, and decreases the length of retirement, a logical solution would be to increase the age of retirement.  But are Americans healthy enough to work longer?  Using the National Health Interview Study, this paper shows that healthy life expectancy increased by about three years over 1970-2000 for the average 50-year old man.  This increase is largely the result of men moving up the education ladder, with minimal increases within educational groups.  Moreover, major disparities in healthy life expectancy remain between those in the bottom and top quartiles of the population.  And these disparities mean that a vulnerable portion of the population – perhaps those who most need to work longer – might not be able to extend their work lives.