(November 2000) Through most of the 20th century, labor force participation rates have declined for men at older ages, as increasing numbers of older people have been able to retire. The median age at retirement (the youngest age at which only half of men are still working) has fallen from 74 in 1910 to 63 in 1999. This long-term decline has been due mainly to increasing incomes, made possible through the greater coverage and generosity of benefits provided by both Social Security and private pensions. Social Security provides full benefits for retirees at age 65 (the retirement age will increase to 67 in coming years) and partial benefits beginning at age 62.
For older men, labor force participation rates have leveled off since the mid-1980s after decades of decline. Of those ages 55 to 64, 83 percent were in the labor force in 1970; 68 percent in 1985, and 69 percent in 1999. For those ages 65 to 74, labor force participation was 36 percent in 1970, and fell to 21 percent in 1985 before climbing somewhat to 23 percent in 1999.
The trend in labor force participation for older women has been one of steady increase. Each successive generation in recent decades has had a higher proportion of women working outside the home during their middle years, gradually narrowing the gap in labor force participation rates between older men and older women. In 1999, 52 percent of women ages 55 to 64 and 15 percent of those ages 65 to 74 were in the labor force.
Most of the data, charts, and graphs on the older population are based on tabulations from the Census Bureau’s March Current Population Survey (CPS).