Labor force participation is rising for older workers in the U.S.; therefore, while it is tempting to focus on prime-age workers to gauge the economy’s health to avoid demographic effects, doing so misses important shifts amongst those over 54 years old.
Figures 1a and 1b (below) show labor force participation rates by gender, birth cohort, and age in five–year intervals. These figures describe both trends in labor force participation by age and whether levels and patterns in labor force participation have changed across generations. Since labor force participation is a substantial determinant of output and living standards over time, these numbers and trends are significant.
In general, the broad trends for men and women are different: recent cohorts of women (across age spans) have been participating at higher rates than their predecessors early in life but lower rates in middle age, while recent cohorts of men have been participating at lower rates throughout prime-age years. However, those currently ages 60 to 64 (purple)—men and women alike—are both still working at higher rates than their prior cohorts.
To measure the importance of the rising rates of older workers in the labor force, we decompose the changes in overall labor force participation into changes in the age composition of the adult population and changes in the propensity of each age group to work. We found that aging contributed 2.7 percentage points to the 3.1 percentage point decline, while changes in participation contributed just 0.4 percentage points.
Yet this small contribution of participation rate changes to the overall decline masks the sizable shifts within gender-age groups shown in figure 2 (below):
It is young people—particularly young men—who have driven the overall participation rate down between 2007 and 2018.
In total, the declining participation of prime-age or younger workers led the overall participation rate to decline by 1.14 percentage points.
By contrast, the participation of men and women age 55 and older raised the overall rate by 0.73 percentage points.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Is the continued rise of older Americans in the workforce necessary for future growth?