Older Workers Have More to Offer

August 20, 2015

Older Workers Have More to Offer

Most of us already know that there are three stages of adulthood: early adulthood, from 18 to 40 years of age; mid-adulthood, from 40 to 62; and mature adulthood, from 62 to 85. During the first two stages of adulthood, people are generally well-regarded and highly sought after employees. During the third stage, as people grow older, there is a pervasive notion that they should retire and exit the workforce.



The third stage, mature adulthood, was proposed in a 2000 paper that I coauthored with Dr. Elliott Jaques (creator of the "midlife crisis" concept in 1965). Older workers can be among a company's most valuable asset. Further, many people in the later stages of adulthood want or need to remain in the workforce past the outdated retirement age of 65 established in 1935 (80 years ago!).


I propose that we shift the stages of adulthood to make room for a new, fourth stage of adulthood, called "Evolutionary Adulthood."The second stage should be redefined to include people 40 to 60, the third redefined to include those 60 to 80, and this fourth stage will include people 80 to 100 years of age. The reality is that more people are working later in life, not only because they need or want the additional income, but because in their extend longevity, they want to be productively engaged in society.


My premise is that we should not merely define this additional phase of adulthood, but we should also consider what people in this stage of life can offer to their work and communities. Now, more than ever before, it's important to recognize and utilize the talents and capabilities of all age groups that can add value. We can no longer consider it to be exceptional when people work into their late 60s, 70s and 80s. With biomedical and other health care advances enabling people to live for significantly more years, I believe an increasing number of people will continue to be productively engaged into their 80s and 90s. This is indicative of a demographic megatrend that will extend as future generations develop even longer lifespans.


Gary Becker, a renowned professor of economics at the University of Chicago and a Nobel Laureate, wrote an article for Businessweek in 2000 titled: "Longer Life Was the Century's Greatest Gift." Becker noted that 30 years were added to peoples' lives during the 20th century and that this is a gift important to use for maximum advantage. Many people 50 and older (50+) will use this gift to continue working, and they will shape the future of the American workplace. As such, HR professionals would be wise to evolve their strategies and plan on utilizing more employees who are in their third and fourth stages of life.


Here are a few of the factors that support my proposal to consider:


  • The U.S. is home to an aging population, with more than 109 million Americans age 50 or older, or one-third of the total population.
  • According to the Social Security Administration, in 1950 there were 16.5 workers for every retiree.Today that ratio is about three to one, and by 2030 it's projected to be almost two to one.
  • Studies conducted by the MacArthur Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health report that older people who continue working enjoy better health, express greater satisfaction with life, and live four to five years longer than those who don't.
  • A 2014 study co-sponsored by Merrill Lynch found that 72 percent of more than 7,000 pre-retirees 50 and older want to continue working after retirement, a majority for non-financial reasons.

The increased longevity in the 21st century requires a different understanding about aging, retirement and the capabilities of older people in the workforce. It is my belief that as people age they can become more integral assets to their employers. I coined the term Double ESPTM to describe the unique qualities that older workers possess: experience, expertise, seasoned judgement and proven performance.


Older workers constitute a large and growing talent pool that needs to be tapped to maintain and increase the country's economic growth and prosperity. Many people in the later stages of life still have a great deal to offer companies. We need to shift the negative attitudes about aging employees and instead recognize what they can contribute in their workplaces in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. People aged 80 to 100 are part of the new fourth group I am proposing, and we can't afford to shunt them to the sidelines simply because they have reached this stage. Employers need to recognize the fourth stage of Evolutionary Adulthood as a time when people can still add value, imparting their wealth of accumulated experience and wisdom to their working activities.

The Authors: 

Octogenarian entrepreneur and expert on aging Bill Zinke is the founder and president of Enrich Life Over 50 (ELO50), a grassroots organization established in 2014 for people 50 years of age and older. ELO50 will form a national network of chapters in 27 cities throughout the country during the next four years. Bill has been focused on issues relating to the impact of demographic change on strategic workforce planning in companies and an aging population for the past 15 years. In 1969, Bill founded Human Resource Services (HRS) in New York City to focus on the broad field of human resources management; he relocated to Boulder, Colorado in 1990. HRS has played a leadership role in confronting issues relating to aging, retirement and strategic workforce planning since the latter 1990s.