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September 2002, Vol. 125, No. 9
The labor force participation of older women: retired? working? both?Elizabeth T. Hill
Why do older women participate in the labor force? There is some evidence that on average, women’s incomes at older ages are low; therefore, they may work because they have to work. However, more-educated women continue to work till older ages. Thus, to the extent that education and income rise together, some older women apparently work because they prefer to work. This article considers the question of women working during the usual retirement ages: What are the ages of older women who are employed? Do work hours change as women age? Does the age of those who work more weeks per year differ from those who work more hours per week? Do older women typically leave the labor force and re-enter later or do they continue working? Do they work primarily because of income needs or do other reasons prevail?
The data are from the Mature Women’s Cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Labor Market Experience, sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey began in 1967 with 5,083 women ages 30 to 44, following them for the past three decades. By 1997, they had reached ages 60 to 74, well into the usual retirement ages. The National Longitudinal Survey seeks information about personal and family characteristics as well as the labor market experience of respondents.
Background and literature
Although a larger proportion of men than women are employed at older ages, the labor force participation rate among older men has fallen, while that of older women has risen. In 1975, women represented 38 percent of all older workers (ages 65 and older), but by 1990, they accounted for 43 percent.1 Census and Social Security data show that between 1975 and 1990, the labor force participation rate among 55- to 64-year-olds changed differently by gender. Men’s labor force participation rate fell to 68 percent from 76 percent, while that of women rose to 45 percent from 41 percent. For women older than 65 years, the labor force participation rate rose slightly to 8.7 percent from 8.2 percent, although among men older than 65 years, it fell to 16 percent from 22 percent.2
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1 John R. Besl and Balkrishna D. Kale, "Older workers in the 21st century: active and educated, a case study," Monthly Labor Review, June 1996, pp. 18–28.
2 Patrick J. Purcell, "Older workers: employment and retirement trends," Monthly Labor Review, October 2000, pp. 19–30.
Related BLS programs
National Longitudinal Surveys
Related Monthly Labor Review articles
Employment characteristics of older women, 1987.—Sept. 1988.
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