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Older Workers and Retirement, Part I

Paper Session

Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM (CST)

Hilton Riverside, Bridge
Hosted By: Labor and Employment Relations Association
  • Chair: Teresa Ghilarducci, New School for Social Research

Employer-Provided Health Insurance Costs and the Demand for Older Workers: Evidence from Administrative Data

Owen Davis
New School for Social Research


One commonly hypothesized factor in the demand for older workers is the cost of employer-provided health benefits, an expense that has grown dramatically in recent decades. Since older workers cost substantially more to insure, rising health premiums may put a damper on the demand for workers 50 and older, reducing their wages, employment opportunities, or access to health benefits. A simple economic model of employer benefit provision predicts an unambiguously negative effect of rising health premiums on wages but an ambiguous effect on employment. This study uses matched employer-employee administrative records linked to firm-level data on health insurance offerings to estimate the impacts of rising health premiums on the labor market outcomes of older workers compared to their younger counterparts. The proposed estimation strategy exploits geographic heterogeneity in health costs, with the growth of health insurance premiums instrumented using a comprehensive dataset on U.S. hospital mergers, 2001-2014. An extension of the study uses a new linkage between Health and Retirement Study survey data of older workers and firm-level U.S. Census administrative records to test for impacts of rising premiums that may not be captured directly in earnings and employment data, such as subjective survey responses regarding employment experiences.

Older Workers with Unpredictable Schedules: Implications for Well-being and Job Retention

Leah R. Abrams
Tufts University
Kristen Harknett
University of California-San Francisco
Daniel Schneider
Harvard University


A substantial portion of the service sector workforce is middle aged or older, but little is known about the scheduling conditions of these older workers. This study describes the quality of work schedules in the service sector by age and tests associations of unpredictable schedules with well-being and job retention among workers ages 50-80. We use data from the Shift Project, which collected survey data on detailed working conditions and health from 121,408 service sector workers, recruited in 2017-2020 using social media advertisements. Survey weights align sample demographics with the American Community Survey, and multiple imputation addresses item non-response. We examine associations between age and schedule stability, and between schedule stability and a series of well-being and job retention outcomes for older workers. We find that scheduling conditions were more stable and predictable for older compared to younger workers; however, more than 80% of workers ages 50-80 experienced one or more types of routine schedule instability. Among workers ages 50-80, unpredictable schedules were associated with psychological distress, poor quality sleep, work-family conflict, economic insecurity, job dissatisfaction, and intentions to look for a new job. Canceled and back-to-back closing and opening ("clopening") shifts were most strongly associated with negative outcomes. Our results suggest that policies aimed at improving scheduling conditions could benefit older service workers' well-being. As the population ages, improving work schedules in the years approaching retirement may be important to longer working lives.

Navigating the Run-up to Retirement: Employment Entries and Exits Among Older Workers

Beth C. Truesdale
W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research


Delayed retirement can improve individuals' financial security, but those who are not steadily employed during their 50s may not be strong candidates for working into their 60s. Recent research shows that fully a third of U.S. adults experience intermittent employment during their 50s, a number that does not vary much by education, race, or gender, but little is known about how these workers navigate the labor market in the run-up to retirement. Using restricted narrative data about industry and occupation from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), I take a qualitative approach to these short narratives, which record respondents' own words about what they do for work. Combining individuals' work narratives across survey waves with data on their education, income, health, caregiving responsibilities, and that of their spouses, I highlight a range of stories. This approach complements previous quantitative research on work and retirement by revealing nuances about intermittent older workers' strategies, while it complements previous qualitative research by using nationally-representative data.

Age Disparities in Reemployment among Displaced Workers: Variation over Time and across Groups

Richard W. Johnson
Urban Institute


The challenges facing older displaced workers are well known. They spend more time out of work before becoming reemployed than younger displaced workers, and older displaced workers who find work generally earn much less on their new job than they did on their pre-displacement job. These patterns are likely shifting, however, as older workers stay in the labor force longer and make up an increasing share of the nation's workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic might have reduced reemployment among older displaced workers, who may be reluctant to return to the workplace because of potential health consequences. Also, job loss may be more consequential for certain older workers, such as women, people of color, and workers with limited education. This study uses data from multiple waves of the Current Population Survey's Displaced Worker Survey to investigate employment outcomes for workers who lost their jobs and examine how outcomes vary by age and other personal characteristics and how they have shifted over time. Our data cover job displacements from 1981 to 2022, allowing us to document long-term trends and observe outcomes before and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and at different points in the business cycle. We estimate the likelihood of reemployment for a sample of workers who lost their jobs and measure wage losses for a sample of displaced workers who became reemployed. Our analysis quantifies the impact of age, education, race and ethnicity, gender, and the local unemployment rate on these outcomes.

Matthew Rutledge
Boston College
Siavash Radpour
New School for Social Research
JEL Classifications
  • J2 - Demand and Supply of Labor
  • J6 - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers