How Do Job Skills That Decline With Age Affect White-Collar Workers?

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While declines in physical and mental performance are inevitable as workers age, they are not uniform across the various systems of the body – some physical and cognitive abilities decline much earlier than others. This variance implies that workers in occupations that rely on skills that decline early may be unable to work until late ages, even as policy changes like increases in the Full Retirement Age (FRA) encourage them to. Researchers often estimate models of early retirement that include a control for whether a worker is in a blue-collar job – basically assuming that less-physical white-collar work allows longer careers. But this assumption ignores the fact that even workers in white-collar occupations may find themselves relying on skills that have declined. This paper instead reviews the literature on aging and constructs a Susceptibility Index meant to reflect how susceptible an occupation is to declines in ability, regardless of whether the occupation relies on physical abilities (as blue-collar occupations do) or cognitive ones.