Why Older Workers Are Happier

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America's Changing Workforce: Recession Turns a Graying Office Grayer
Pew Research Center; 32 pages

The Gist:
Pew's most comprehensive study of workforce demographics in the past three years shows that the recession isn't the only reason older workers are sticking around longer. Workers over 55 are expected to account for 93% of the U.S. labor force's growth from 2006 to 2016, and many of those graying employees are in it not just for the money, but also because they relish the opportunity to contribute to society later in life. Meanwhile, the greenhorns and the guys are the ones feeling the hurt. The study notes that younger workers, who are returning to campus to wait out the downturn (40% of respondents ages 16 to 24 say they can't find work), account for the lowest share of the U.S. labor force since 1948.

Highlight Reel:
1. On the value of job security: "By a ratio of nearly two-to-one, survey respondents say they would prefer a job that offers better security (59%) over one that offers higher pay (33%) but less stability. It's not the recession that drives this preference. A similar question asked by the General Social Survey in 1989 (when the economy was in the midst of an expansion) produced a similar result."

2. On women in the workforce: "After marching steadily upward for five decades, the labor force participation rate of women has essentially flattened out. It now stands at 59%, slightly below the 60% peak it reached in 2000 at the end of a period of robust economic growth, and about 13 percentage points below the current rate for men ... The current economic downturn has hit men harder than women, with men suffering two-thirds of all recession-related job losses."

3. On changing workplace attitudes: "With a college degree increasingly seen as a necessity for the good life, many young people ages 16 to 24 report they are staying out of the labor force to concentrate full time on their education. At the other end of the work life cycle, older adults are healthier, living longer and more inclined than any time in recent decades to work past the traditional retirement age of 65. A majority of those who do so say they keep working mainly for the intangible rather than the economic rewards."

4. On the different motivations for young and old workers: "For older workers, a job is far more than merely a paycheck. In fact, older people and younger workers tested significantly differently on seven of the eight reasons for working tested in the survey. The exception: Nearly seven-in-ten older workers (68%) say the desire 'to feel like a useful and productive person' is a big reason they work. It is the single most frequently mentioned factor among the eight and the only one in which a similar proportion of younger workers (70%) share this view."

The Lowdown:
For the most part, the study hits the same notes we've been hearing throughout the recession: men have been feeling the employment crunch worse than women; students are riding out the downturn by staying in (or returning to) school; and old folks are deferring retirement, making it harder for those under 25 to snag a real job. But Pew carries the usual tropes a step further, taking a valuable, in-depth look at gender discrepancies that may shed some light on why women are weathering the storm and men are mourning their lost jobs.

The Verdict: Skim.