Work and Retirement Patterns for the G.I. Generation, Silent Generation, and Early Boomers: Thirty Years of Change



This study examines how the shifting choices and constraints facing older workers have changed work and retirement patterns over the past 30 years. Health improvements, declines in physical job demands, changes in Social Security rules, and the erosion in traditional defined benefit pension coverage and employer-sponsored retiree health insurance have altered work incentives at older ages. This paper compares labor force exits by older workers born 1913 to 1917 (part of the G.I. Generation), 1933 to 1937 (part of the Silent Generation), and 1943 to 1947 (part of the Baby Boom Generation). The analysis uses 16-year longitudinal panels from the Health and Retirement Study and decades-long administrative earnings records linked to respondents in the Survey of Income and Program Participation.

The results show that early boomers worked longer than members of the Silent Generation, and that the pathways older workers follow out of the labor force have become more complex over time. The median retirement age for men was about one-half year higher in the 1943–47 cohort than in the 1933–37 cohort (62 vs. 61.5), but differences were more pronounced at older ages. By age 65, for example, 40 percent of early boomer men had not yet retired, compared with only 20 percent of Silent Generation men. Both male and female workers in the 1933–37 cohort were much less likely than their counterparts in the 1913–17 cohort to follow the traditional retirement path of exiting the labor force from full-time employment and never returning to work.