Older Workers and Bridge Employment: Redefining Retirement

By Ulrich, Lorene B.; Brott, Pamelia E. | Journal of Employment Counseling, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Older Workers and Bridge Employment: Redefining Retirement


Ulrich, Lorene B., Brott, Pamelia E., Journal of Employment Counseling


The authors present a qualitative study that explored the transition experiences of older workers who retired from long-term careers and who were working in bridge jobs (i.e., transitional work between career employment and retirement). Using grounded theory methodology, the authors interviewed 24 older workers to learn why they decided to pursue a bridge job, how they made the transition, and what challenges they faced and benefits they received. The core theme from the study is that bridge employment redefines retirement. The authors present the findings of the study along with recommendations for career counselors and implications for future research.

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The concept of retirement is changing; therefore, career counseling for older adults needs to be explored. Longer life spans, better health, and more active lives will be significant contributors to what it means to retire. In fact, retirement may be redefined by the options available to the older adult (Collins, 2003). Career counselors can be an integral part of this redefinition of retirement by helping older clients identify retirement options, determine the best retirement direction, achieve goals, and develop strategies to overcome possible barriers.

A demographic shift to an aging society is occurring in the United States as baby boomers approach the normal retirement ages during this decade (Collins, 2003). As the population ages, the workforce also ages. The Bureau of labor Statistics (BLS; 2005a) cited a 34% increase of men and women in the workforce aged 55 years and older between 1992 and 2002 and estimated that these older workers will increase by 49.3% by 2012. The most significant demographic shift within the 55-years-and-older group is the increase of workforce participation rate of individuals in the 65- to 74-year-old group, a group society assumes is fully retired (Toossi, 2004). This age group had a workforce participation rate of 16.2% in 1982; the rate increased to 20.4% in 2000 and is projected to rise to 23.6% in 2012.

Statistics indicate that once older adults reach age 65 they will most likely retire (Ekerdt, 1998). Some individuals do take the traditional retirement route by moving from full-time work to full-time leisure, but a substantial number of older Americans will remain in the labor force after they leave their career jobs (Hansson, DeKoekkoek, Neece, & Patterson, 1997). Many of these working "retired" adults are in bridge-type jobs, which act as transitions between long-term career positions and total retirement (Feldman, 1994; Mutchler, Burr, Pienta, & Massagli, 1997). Furthermore, as a part of downsizing, employers are offering incentives to induce costly older workers into early retirement ("Business: The Jobs Challenge," 2001). By the late 1990s, early retirements accounted for more than 80% of total retirements (Seymour, 1999). A significant number of these early retirees participate in some form of bridge employment (Feldman, 1994). These bridge jobs may be part-time work, self-employment, or temporary work and often involve a combination of fewer hours, less stress or responsibility, greater flexibility, and fewer physical demands (Feldman, 1994).

Bridge jobs offer possible remedies to older adults who are concerned about their financial security and to employers who face a labor shortage. Americans are living longer and healthier lives. In 1900, the life expectancy (i.e., from birth to death) was 47.3 years (Administration on Aging, 2002); in 2002, the average life expectancy was 77.4 years. This increased life expectancy, the high level of dependence on Social Security, and the increased number of workers not covered by pensions could contribute to the financial insecurity of older workers (Committee for Economic Development, 1999). To maintain desired incomes in retirement, older Americans will have to save more during their working years and/or work later in life, including taking bridge employment. …

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