Work lives need to adapt to changing life expectancy


A key focus for the faculty of Columbia Aging Center is the topic of work as it relates to healthy aging. In the last century, life expectancy has increased by approximately 30 years in the United States and other developed countries. But the evolution in the conception and composition of our work lives has not kept pace.

The majority of the gains in life expectancy today are being realized after the age of 65, three years after the average age of retirement in the U.S. Clearly, there is a need to reconceptualize not only the age at which workers retire, but also the way we educate people and train workers over the life course. And we need novel policy approaches to retaining older workers in the workforce, both to benefit the economy, our pension and social security systems, and ultimately the health of individual workers.

Research increasingly supports the notion that the retention of older workers in the workforce yields multiple benefits. On a macro level, society has much to gain from the continued contributions of older workers. In turn, longer working lives generate increased tax revenue and consumer spending, which drives economic growth and new job creation. On a personal level, working longer supports older adults’ physical and mental health, social connectivity, economic well-being, and feelings of purposefulness.


What is known about how work and lifelong learning can contribute to successful/optimal aging in particular with regard to cognitive functioning, and conversely how the ability and motivation to work and learn can be maintained throughout the lifespan? As a corollary, the Center’s researchers are also deeply engaged in examining the health effects of retirement timing throughout the world. For examples of our research on work, please click here.


The Columbia Aging Center’s Age Smart Employer Awards and Age Boom Academy are directly addressing the issue of the interplay of work-lives and normal aging. Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, these two outreach initiatives specifically shed light on the economic value of retaining older workers in the workforce. The health benefits for older workers can only be fully realized if these workers have the opportunity to remain employed.