What does increasing life expectancy mean for the future of work?

As life expectancy increases, many people will want or need to work longer. These workers are already huge contributors to economic growth, and their impact will only grow. However, not everyone is enjoying increases in life expectancy. The life expectancies of many groups, including some people of color and those with low incomes, have stagnated.

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As Americans live longer, many are choosing to continue working well past traditional retirement age for a variety of reasons: they need the money, they enjoy the work, or they enjoy the social connection that work provides.

Older workers add significant value to the economy by increasing productivity and contributing to innovation. By enabling workers to remain in the workforce for as long as they can and want to work, we will see increased consumer spending as well. However, many people will be unable to continue working as they age even if they want or need to, we know that many people of color and those with low incomes are less likely to experience longer life and health spans.

“On average we will be living longer, therefore it will be harder to retire earlier due to the cost of living and healthcare.
It’s great to expect to live longer, but I’d also like to enjoy my life after work and not be so old that it hinders that.”

—Tom, Boston, MA, participant in AARP focus group


With many people opting to work longer, there will be opportunities and challenges for employers and workers alike.

Opportunities for workers

  • Increasing longevity can enable people to work longer, and working longer has benefits such as keeping people mentally engaged with work they value and/or enjoy, having a sense of purpose, preventing or reducing loneliness and providing more time to build financial security that will support longer lifespans.
  • Older workers can explore new ways of working such as leveraging gig work, freelancing and consulting and phased retirement (see Megatrend: Rise of Contingent Work).
  • Older workers can pursue different work interests through a new career or job in a new field.

Challenges for workers

  • Barriers to working longer persist.
    • Ageism and misperceptions among employers and colleagues are the primary barriers for older people to continue working.
    • Older workers of color face the dual challenges of age- and race-based discrimination.
    • Keeping one’s skills relevant to rapid changes will require ongoing investment in training (see Megatrend: Lifelong Learning and Megatrend: Advances in Tech).
  • Longer lives mean people need to find a way to financially support themselves for longer.
    • Retirement income security has declined even for the half of workers with an employer-sponsored retirement account. Employers have shifted from traditional pensions to 401(k)s and 403(b)s, shifting the risk to workers to manage investments and accumulate adequate retirement savings. If pushed into retirement before they are ready, workers may not have the funds to support full retirement expenses.

Opportunities for employers

  • Employees who are ages 50 and over are the most engaged of any age group, so keeping them in the workforce supports greater productivity. According to the OECD, employers with a 10% higher share of older workers than the average see a 1.1% increase in productivity.
  • Multigenerational learning and development allow for lifelong learning, which builds resilience in a business by transferring skills among workers across a talent pool, making for a more innovative and productive workforce (see Megatrend: Lifelong Learning).
  • With the rise of automation (see Megatrend: Advances in Technology), employers will need employees with skills that cannot be automated—specifically, curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and change management. These higher-order cognitive "5C" skills and capabilities appear in experienced members of the labor market and take time to accrue; however, organizations have yet to allocate resources and generate policies to help workers of all ages strengthen their "5C" muscles.

Challenges for employers

  • Few employers provide age- and stage-inclusive recruitment, assessment, retention, compensation, learning and development opportunities, health and wellness benefits, and retirement support.
    • Learning and development programs are not typically designed for or focused on experienced workers (see Megatrend: Lifelong Learning).
    • Training a multigenerational workforce on how to better communicate, work with and respect people from other generations has not been common practice historically.
  • As people live and work longer, some older workers may want to step back from senior management roles, and HR may not be set up to facilitate this.

How the 50+ are changing the economy, according to
The Longevity Economy® Outlook report.

1People age 50+ currently contribute $8.3 trillion to the U.S. economy each year.

2$0.56 of every dollar spent in the U.S. in 2018 came from the 50+ population, and this is expected to increase to $0.60 by 2050.


  • Employers will need to look for, address and overcome stereotypes and biases in algorithmic employee screening if they are going to take advantage of the resources, knowledge and skills offered by older workers.
  • Employers can provide age- and stage-inclusive recruitment, assessment, retention, compensation, learning and development opportunities (including apprenticeships, two-way mentoring and team training programs for all ages), health and wellness benefits, and retirement support.
  • Policymakers can consider providing financial incentives and guidance to employers to support workers as they age.
  • Policymakers need to strengthen and enforce laws against age discrimination.
  • Policymakers need to ensure that workers who cannot continue to work have the support systems in place to have an adequate standard of living.

Learn how to unlock the power of a multigenerational workforce on our Growing with Age page.

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