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Unretirement in the 2010s: Prevalence, Determinants, and Outcomes

Kevin E. Cahill, Michael D. Giandrea, and Joseph F. Quinn


For several decades a sizable minority of older Americans have reentered the labor force after an initial retirement, or “unretired.”  The percentage who have done so has remained remarkably stable over the years. While measures of unretirement differ across studies, by one measure between 10 to 20 percent of older career workers reenter the labor after leaving for two or more years.  This paper explores whether unretirements have been increasing in recent years, most notably in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the slow but persistent economic recovery that followed.  We use data on four cohorts of older career workers from the longitudinal Health and Retirement Study (HRS) from 1992 through 2016 and examine the prevalence of reentry over time among each one.  We find that reentry continues to play an important role in the retirement process of older Americans, with rates more or less consistent across cohorts.  Most notably, we do not find evidence of a shift in the prevalence of unretirements in recent years.