Older Americans Handling Work Demands

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Older workers face fewer headwinds and better working conditions than their younger co-workers, according to the first analysis of a new survey of 3,900 blue- and white-collar workers between ages 25 and 71.

The U.S. workplace overall is “very physically and emotionally taxing,” according to the study – that’s why they call it “work.”  Two out of three workers of all ages reported in the 2015 survey that they are often required to move at high speeds under tight deadlines, feeling intense pressure to accomplish too much in too little time.

But after people pass the age of 50, things get a little easier.  Older workers report having more flexible work schedules, more predictable hours, fewer scheduling changes, less stress, and greater ease in arranging time off to take care of personal matters, the analysis found.

Their workplace situation isn’t all rosy.  Larger shares of older workers feel under-employed or have unsupportive bosses – this held true whether they had college degrees or not.

The analysis of the new American Working Conditions Survey (AWCS), by researchers led by Nicole Maestas at Harvard Medical School and recently published in an e-book, is an introduction to what will inevitably be more research using this new, publicly available data. The AWCS might, for example, provide new fodder for studying the factors that influence older Americans to continue working or to retire.

The new study found some striking differences between older and younger workers – and among different groups of older workers:

  • The vast majority of workers between ages 50 and 59 predict they will have the physical and mental ability to continue in their jobs for another 10 years. However, this positive assessment of the future is higher among the college-educated than those without college degrees, whose work tends to be more physically demanding.
  • But the amount of heavy lifting, tiring positions, and standing or sitting required for long periods largely does moderate with age – and even for men without college degrees.
  • Older men are also under much less time pressure than men under 35 without degrees, who report not having enough time to complete their tasks at three times the rate reported by similar women under 35. Notably, the reverse is true for older women, who face more time pressures than women under 35.
  • Autonomy – in the form of control over one’s schedule – improves with age, particularly for college-educated men over 50. Among older women without college degrees, two out of three can choose their break times, giving them more freedom than their younger counterparts.
  • Older workers lacking college degrees have some advantages too: they are less prone to frequent scheduling changes than younger workers.

This survey suggests there are myriad workplace factors driving the decision to keep working or retire. Stay tuned for more research on this important issue.

The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

1 comment
Joseph Smith

It’s a good read. There is a difference between young and senior workers in terms of their schedule, level of comfort, and job satisfaction. Thanks for sharing the blog.

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