Early Retirement: The Dawn of a New Era?

July 2011

Americans reaching traditional retirement ages during the past two decades and today face a different retirement environment than did prior cohorts of workers. In response to a very different environment, retirement patterns have changed dramatically since the mid 1980s. A century-long trend toward earlier and earlier retirement by American men has come to a halt, and has subsequently reversed. Among older women, there was a similar break in trend, and many older men and women are working today than the pre-1980s trends would have predicted. In addition, the majority of Americans retire not all-at-once, but gradually, in stages, utilizing bridge jobs between full-time career employment and complete labor force withdrawal. Since the structural changes we describe are not about to be reversed, we think that recent trends are a good guide for the near future. We have entered a new era of retirement, which, we argue, is mostly good news – for the individuals themselves, for employers and for the nation as a whole, facing the challenges of an aging society.