As recently as the mid-1960s, the median retirement age for men--the age at which half of all men are no longer in the labor force--was 66. Today, it is 63. But given the scheduled decline in Social Security replacement rates, increased longevity, and the relatively low balances in 401(k) accounts, Americans risk serious income shortfalls, especially at older ages, if they continue to retire at age 63. A rational response is to move the average retirement age back to 66 or even older. A key consideration is whether people will be healthy enough to work longer. This brief compares the health status of older people today with those forty years ago and explores what happens to people's health as they age. The bottom line is that the health of older people (those 65 and older), as opposed to older workers (those 50 to 64), showed little improvement in the 1970s, mixed results in the 1980s, and marked improvement since the 1990s. The marked improvement for older workers most likely began earlier, in the 1980s. Today, the health of older workers appears to be at least as good as it was forty years ago. Thus, if half of the male population were then healthy enough to work until age 66, the same percentage should be able to do so today. Two important issues not addressed in this brief are whether the jobs will be there for older workers and the challenge presented by the 15 to 20 percent of the older population for whom work will be impossible.
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