Later-life Employment Preferences and Outcomes: The Role of Mid-life Work Experiences

Raymo, James, John R. Warren, Megan M. Sweeney, Robert Hauser, and JeongHwa Ho
Working paper no. 2008-15


It is increasingly clear that older Americans will need to work longer in order to ensure their own economic well-being and to reduce projected strains on public transfer programs. It is thus important to understand who does and does not want to continue working at older ages and the factors that facilitate or hinder the realization of those preferences. In this paper, we use data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study to evaluate relationships between mid-life work experiences and the realization of preferences for full-time employment, part-time employment, and complete retirement at age 63-64. We find that the likelihood of achieving one’s preferred employment status is related to work experiences at earlier stages of the life course including employment stability, occupational status, self-employment across the life course, labor union membership, and the absence of earlier occupational aspirations. We also demonstrate that these relationships are only partially mediated by economic and employment circumstances in late mid-life. Based on these results, we anticipate that experiences across the life course will play a growing role in shaping patterns of later-life employment among the large baby boom cohorts now approaching an increasingly individualized retirement process with heterogeneous life histories.