This brief identifies the most common occupations held by Americans ages 62 and older, the most common occupations among newly hired workers ages 62 and older, and the occupations that older workers most and least enjoy. This 15-page brief was published by the Urban Institute in December 2017. The findings indicate that older adults are employed throughout the economy in a wide range of occupations.

For many older workers, delaying retirement does not mean continuing in the same job they held when they were younger. Instead, many leave their long-held employers and occupations behind once they reach their 60s and late 50s, entering new lines of work (Cahill, Giandrea, and Quinn 2015). Johnson (forthcoming) estimated that one-half of adults employed at age 50 will move to a new employer by age 70.

Because workers generally qualify for Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, the analysis excluded younger workers. We tabulated occupations separately by sex and education because men and women tend to work in different jobs, and some occupations require a college degree. The data came from the Health and Retirement Study, a large, nationally representative survey of older Americans conducted by the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan, with primary funding from the National Institute on Aging. Detailed occupation identifiers are available in a restricted-access version of the survey. Because the Health and Retirement Study follows workers over time, we identified workers who moved to new jobs at ages 62 and older.

The survey asked respondents whether they enjoyed their work, and we ranked the most enjoyable jobs for older workers by the share of incumbent workers ages 62 and older who strongly agreed that they “really enjoy going to work.” We ranked the least enjoyable jobs for older workers by the share of incumbent older workers who disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement.

Our findings indicate that older adults are employed throughout the economy in a wide range of occupations. Many of these jobs require substantial education or experience, but others are less skilled and physically demanding. Older women appear to face more employment challenges than older men, in that they are segregated within a smaller number of occupations and many have more education than their job requires.


Major Findings & Recommendations

The following findings are highlighted in the report under these section headings: Most Common Jobs for Newly Hired Older Workers, and Most and Least Enjoyable Jobs for Older Workers:

The list of the most common jobs for newly hired men and women ages 62 and older resembles the list of the most common jobs held by all older workers, regardless of job tenure. Twenty-one of the 25 most common occupations for newly hired men ages 62 and older are among the most common occupations held by all men in that age range. The only occupations not on the list of top jobs for all older men are agricultural workers, couriers and messengers, management analysts, and carpenters. The top 15 occupations for newly hired women ages 62 and older are all among the top 25 occupations for all employed women in that age range. Six occupations—personal care aides; child care workers; teachers, except postsecondary ones; secretaries and administrative assistants; nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides; and maids and housekeepers—employ one-third of newly hired women ages 62 and older. Women who change jobs after age 62 are segmented into fewer occupations, limiting their employment options.

Sixty-one percent of workers ages 62 and older agree with the statement that they really enjoy going to work, and 31 percent strongly agree. About two-thirds of clergy members ages 62 and older strongly agree that they really enjoy going to work, making that occupation the favorite job among older workers (table 7). Other highly rated occupations include supervisors of office and administrative workers; postsecondary teachers, non-postsecondary teachers, and farmers and ranchers. Customer service representatives rank as the least favorite job among older workers, with 28.1 percent reporting that they do not really enjoy going to work. Other low-ranked occupations among workers ages 62 and older include construction laborers, construction equipment operators, and security guards. Counseling appears to be a divisive occupation; it ranks as the second most enjoyable occupation, with 46.4 percent strongly agreeing that they really enjoy going to work, and as the 13th least enjoyable job, with 9.1 percent reporting that they do not enjoy going to work.

The report includes detailed breakdowns of both rankings in Tables 4 - 7 of the document.