Population aging in the United States poses challenges to societal institutions while simultaneously creating opportunities to build a more resilient, successful, and cohesive society. Work organization and labor-force participation are central to both the opportunities and challenges posed by our aging society. We argue that expectations about old age have not sufficiently adapted to the reality of aging today. Our institutions need more adaptation in order to successfully face the consequences of demographic change. Although this adaptation needs to focus especially on work patterns among the “younger elderly,” our society has to change its general attitudes toward work organization and labor-force participation, which will have implications for education and health care. We also show that work's beneficial effects on well-being in older ages are often neglected, while the idea that older workers displace younger workers is a misconception emerging from the “lump-of-labor” fallacy. We conclude, therefore, that working at older ages can lead to better quality of life for older people and to a more productive and resilient society overall.
Authors' Note: This work was supported by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society and by a grant from the National Institute on Aging (5R01AG040248-03). Mauricio Avendano is also supported by the European Research Council (erc grant 263684). This paper includes sections adapted from Axel Boersch-Supan, “Myths, Scientific Evidence, and Economic Policy in an Aging World,” The Journal of the Economics of Ageing 1–2 (2013): 3–15; and from Mauricio Avendano and Lisa F. Berkman, “Labor Markets, Employment Policies, and Health,” in Social Epidemiology, 2nd ed., ed. Lisa F. Berkman, Ichiro Kawachi, and Maria Glymour (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).