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July 1992, Vol. 115, No. 7
Trends in retirement age by sex, 1950-2005
Murray Gendell and Jacob S. Siegal
There is widespread agreement among analysts that age at retirement has declined in United States. However, this conclusion is almost always based on the long-run decline of the labor force participation rates of older men,1 and thus may not be a valid inference. For example, Cordelia Reimers has shown that the trends in labor force participation rates and average retirement age do not necessarily move in the same direction.2 A valid measure of the average age at retirement that provides estimates comparable for at least several decades is needed to ascertain whether the trend is accelerating, decelerating, or moving at a steady pace.
This measure should be calculated for women as well as for men. In the past, women have been ignored for this purpose, probably because the trends in the labor force participation rates have not been uniform. Whereas the participation rates of men aged 50 and older have been falling for those of all ages, the rates for women have been rising sharply for those aged 50 to 54 and 55 to 59, while changing little for those aged 65 and over. The rates for women 60 to 64 rose considerably between 1950 and 1970, but leveled off thereafter. Thus, the faulty logic noted above - that the direction of the change in the age at retirement could be inferred from the direction of the movement of labor force participation rates - could not be used to judge what was happening to the age at retirement among women, at least not as easily as for men. Yet, the continuing influx of women to the labor force makes it increasingly unacceptable to ignore women in studying changes in the age at retirement.
Our objective, therefore, is to ascertain the level, direction, and rate of change in the average age at retirement of American men and women in the recent past, a task which, to the best of our knowledge, has yet to be accomplished. To carry out this task, we need to find or construct measures that provide a national time series of average ages at retirement over at least several decades, and that are comparable for men and women.
We propose two measures, based on two different definitions of retirement and two different types of data. Each measure is only an approximation of the measure we would like to have. However, given the great personal and societal implications of changes in the average age at retirement, reasonably good approximations should be useful.
This excerpt is from an article published in the July 1992 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 A notable exception is Bert Kestenbaum's 1985 study, which, although limited to men, provides a rigorous analysis of change in the extent to which cohorts of men born between 1903 and 1910 retired early. See Bert Kestenbaum, "The Measurement of Early Retirement,"Journal of the American Statistical Association, March 1985, pp. 38-45.
2 S See Cordelia Reimers, "Is the Average Age at Retirement Changing," Journal of the American Statistics Association, September 1976, pp. 552-58.
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