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Older Workers’ Job Changes a Step Down

When older workers change occupations, many of them move into a lower-status version of the work they’ve done for years, according to a new study by University of Michigan researchers who tracked the workers’ movements among some 200 different occupations.

Aging computer scientists were likely to become programmers or computer support staff.  And veteran high school teachers started tutoring, financial managers transitioned to bookkeepers, and office supervisors became secretaries.

Late-career transitions need to be put into some context: a majority of Americans who were still working in their 60s were in the same occupations they held at age 55, the study found.  And these occupations ran the gamut from clergy to life scientists to cooks.

Interestingly, while teachers, thanks to their defined benefit pensions, often retire relatively young, primary and high school teachers were also at the top of the list of older workers who have remained in one occupation into their 60s, along with radiology technicians and bus drivers.

But about 40 percent of Americans who were still working when they turned 62 had moved to a new occupation sometime after age 55, according to the researchers, who tracked individual workers’ employment changes using the federal government’s coding system.

While change can mean moving into lower-status positions, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for older workers. Change for them often means a less stressful or more satisfying job. So finding a new occupation can improve prospects for retirement security if it encourages them to work a few more years, save more, and reduce the number of retirement years they must finance.

The downside is that past studies have shown that older workers who switch jobs often take a hit on their earnings and benefits. But in this new study, the researchers confirm, they are also “more likely to move ‘down’ than ‘up’.”

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.

6 Responses to Older Workers’ Job Changes a Step Down

  1. Alex says:

    It feels the the opposite in Japanese and other Asian societies that value experience and wisdom over enthusiasm and often unfocused energy.

  2. Mark Zoril says:

    One of the themes that is common, though not universal, with many of my pre-retirement clients is that they are interested in work without stress. They might enjoy what they do, but just want to show up, do the work, and leave. They no longer want any hassles with trying to prove their worth or even move along in their career. As such, some of the positions they take may be “beneath” their skill level or job history, but they are quite satisfied regardless.

  3. Paul Brustowicz says:

    I’m one of those folks who changed jobs at age 62. I stayed in the life insurance industry and moved from being fairly autonomous to reporting to a woman who was about 30 years younger than me. I actually had a higher salary and less responsibility. It was show up, do the job, go home. Over four years, there were three other managers all younger than me. When the third one treated me like an intern, I knew it was time to retire.

    I sought out the change for a higher salary in order to boost my FICA contributions to make up for three years without a salary. It did the trick and raised my Social Security check by several hundred dollars.

    I’ve been retired since 2011 and enjoying life.

  4. Sani says:

    It makes sense for older worker to get a less stressful job and possibly lower pay on their way to retirement.

  5. Mary V says:

    My husband was laid off in 2008 at the age of 57 when he was the manager of an automotive service shop. Since then, he has changed jobs 4 more times, all due to layoffs, and each time with a further reduction in pay. Now, at the age of 65 he is earning less than half of what he was back in ’08. He is as qualified as he ever was, but as soon as employers learn his age, his prospects diminish considerably.

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