Now that the official Full Retirement Age (FRA) for anyone born in 1960 or later is 67, it’s important to acknowledge that some occupations are more conducive to later retirement, while others tend to spit people out earlier.
For example, it’s long been thought that the more physically strenuous a job is—one involving heavy machinery versus an office job, for example—the earlier its practitioners tend to hang up their hats.
But a new survey suggests that as the number of blue-collar jobs continues to decline, physical demands may be decreasing as a reason to retire and a new picture is beginning to emerge as to which occupations are “longer working” and which are “earlier departing.”
Researchers at the University of Michigan recently analyzed compositional changes in occupations held by older workers to shed light on which might encourage and discourage longer working lives. (Using the Health and Retirement Study [HRS] data from 1998 to 2012, researchers defined early retirement as retiring by 63, and late retirement as retiring by 66.)
Jobs that lead to early retirement
Among the top ten occupations with the biggest shift toward lower employment at older ages were the to-be-expected freight handlers and machine operators. But also appearing on the list was the single largest occupational category of “other managers,” which the researchers concluded is most likely white-collar.
Other surprises: The occupations most likely to lead to early retirement also included purchasing managers, business and promotion agents, and licensed practical nurses.
Jobs that lead to professional longevity
As for the occupations where workers seem to remain longest, those included postsecondary teachers, social workers and clergy, lawyers and judges, and real estate agents as well as a smattering of “bridge jobs” that may be easier to enter at older ages without specialized training—taxi drivers, gardeners, teachers assistants.
Is your job conducive to longevity?
Aside from physical labor, what is it about certain jobs that allow for longer careers? Essentially it comes down to which abilities are more susceptible to aging, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
As a recent CRR paper points out, fluid intelligence and the ability to think logically and creatively decline earlier than accumulated knowledge and verbal ability. As a result, occupations such as police detective and designer are just as susceptible to declines in the abilities required to work as are physically-demanding blue-collar occupations, while teachers and lawyers can more readily access their stores of knowledge and continue to express themselves.
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As the paper notes, “crystalized” cognitive ability, i.e. long-term memory, tends to accumulate into one’s sixties or seventies, while “fluid” cognitive abilities, such as working memory and reaction time, steadily decline with age starting in one’s twenties or thirties.
So while policies encouraging longer work have helped increase choices for people in some occupations who want to work longer, they have decreased options for people wanting or needing to retire earlier, especially in occupations that make it less likely to be able to work to the full retirement age of 67.
I suspect that when my generation reaches its 50s and 60s, policy makers will discover that policy and reality may be far apart.