Labor force participation and the characteristics of older American workers (aged 55 and over) have changed a great deal since the mid-1930s, reflecting changes in the broader labor force. No longer are men the sole supporters of their families, working in jobs that require physical labor and expecting to fully retire by age 65. During and after World War II, women surged into the labor force. Health and life expectancy have increased, especially for more educated workers. More recently, older workers considering retirement are facing a tough economic climate in the wake of the Great Recession. Many have experienced reductions in compensation and job losses during this period. These changes coupled with declining home values, investment losses, and high debt have undermined retirement plans and expectations. As a result, older workers are increasingly postponing retirement, or returning to the labor force after initially retiring.
The literature review presented in this report examines supply- and demand-side factors that affect older workers’ labor force participation and labor market outcomes more generally. Supply-side factors include individuals’ socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, government assistance programs and Social Security benefits, and public workforce programs. Demand-side considerations comprise older workers’ productivity and training, and employers’ preferences and discrimination against older workers. This report informs policymakers about the current state of research in this area, emphasizing research conducted from 2010 to 2015. It synthesizes the recent research and highlights the research gaps that remain. The focus is on workforce behaviors among older workers, the barriers they face in the workplace, and the policies and programs that may help them and improve their labor market outcomes. The research review presented here is intended to be useful to government agencies that support older workers in crafting effective policies directed toward these workers.