Vital Aging Network

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Facts about Older Workers

Many older workers—but not all—share these characteristics.


  • Life expectancy and financial need will keep people in the workforce longer.
  • Over one-half of all employed Americans want to work past age 65.
  • Earnings now account for 24% of income for the elderly.
  • Older workers prefer part-time employment.
  • The job-seeking skills of older workers are often outdated.
  • Older workers remain unemployed longer than others.


  • Their attendance record is superior.
  • They show a low rate of accidents, although they stay out longer after an injury.
  • They feel a higher level of satisfaction with their jobs.
  • They possess an eagerness to learn new skills.
  • They can learn even into old age.

Reasons that older workers continue to work

  • They often need to make additions to retirement income
  • They want to add meaning and purpose to life.
  • They like to keep busy.
  • They want to make social contacts.
  • They need to preserve an identity tied to work.
  • They want to use their special skills and education.

Impact of age on ability to work

  • Differences within the population that is older are greater than differences between older and younger groups.
  • Chronological age is no indicator of mental or physiological aging.
  • Older people experience a gradual decline in visual acuity, auditory sensitivity for tones, muscle strength, fine-motor skills, information-processing speed, and capacity to attend to multiple concurrent tasks.
  • Older adults’ use compensatory strategies to adjust to declining capabilities.
  • Older workers benefit from training or retraining.
  • Have longer tenure in jobs that have cognitive demands but fewer physical demands.

Sources: Sara J. Czaja, Promoting Employment Opportunities for Older Adults, Washington, D.C.:1999. Richard Swanson, Analysis for Improving Performance San Francisco, 1996: Berrett-Koehler, p. 210



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