With More Older Workers Ahead,

It’s Time to Stop the Stereotypes By Sara Wildberger


ccording to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, labor force participation rates of older

adults are expected to reach record highs: By 2028, workforce participation by 65-to- 74-year-olds is expected to exceed 32 per- cent. Even with the current unprecedented economic setbacks, there will likely be many more older adults ready, willing, able, and needing to work. Cal J. Halvorsen is an assistant professor

at the Boston College School of Social Work and a faculty affiliate of the school’s Center on Aging & Work, which aims to promote opportunity, choice, and quality of paid and unpaid work across the lifespan, with a focus on older adults. Examining longer working lives, includ-

ing purposeful volunteer work and entre- preneurship, is at the heart of his research. His recent report, What does it mean to have a society with more older people than younger ones? is available at This is excerpted from a longer conversation.

Q. Do you see COVID-19 making a difference for older workers? A. One of my concerns coming out of this pandemic is that we know from the Great Recession that at the beginning of the recession, younger people were the most likely to become unemployed. But when you fast-forward a little bit, the younger people were also the quickest to get new jobs or get their jobs back. Older people experienced longer bouts of unemployment, and many of them never ended up going back into the workforce at all. This has lifelong implications: If you

retire early, you receive less from social se- curity, you have to rely more on personal savings…It’s bad not only for them, but also


for their family, in terms of inheritances but also the opportunities to visit grandkids, or travel.

Q. What other kinds of challenges are there? A. One of the key concerns is ageism. Some decide they can’t handle the physical taxa- tion of some jobs, such as direct caregiving. But there are other ways that we can care for people. At some stages in life, some decide they

can’t handle the physical taxation of some jobs, such as direct caregiving. But there are other ways that we can care for people. I've noticed social work students who

come back for their master's degrees in their forties or fifties. Often the reason they're do- ing this is because they had personal expe- rience taking care of a parent, for example, or a spouse who needed caregiving. Through that experience, they realized

they wanted to focus on this very important stage of life. They can’t do direct caregiving, but they can be an amazing social worker.

Thought Leader Profile

Cal Halvorsen Assistant professor and faculty affiliate Center on Aging and Work, Boston College

Q. Are there particular management or culture changes needed with older workers? A. People, regardless of age, want the op- portunity to do good work that is meaning- ful to them. Keep that in mind as you're managing people who, frankly, might be the age of your parents. If we try to remove age as a barrier, and

think of people having a ton of different skills and experiences due to a variety of factors— age might be one of them—the workplace can be a better place to be.


Myth: Don’t invest in training for older workers—they won’t be at the job long enough for a return. Nope. Halvorsen’s research shows people of all ages want to learn more things and keep up with changes in processes and technology—and many older workers reported they wanted to stay at a job for about 10 years.

Older workers aren’t interested in promotions and advancement. Again, they’re just as interested as workers of any age in going up the ladder.

If you’re looking for a mentor, an older worker is ideal. Maybe, maybe not. But if you’re leaning too hard on a worker of any age to give lots of extra help and training, that’s not sustainable.

Register for the Argentum Senior Living Executive Virtual Conference for a session on the value of reaching older workers and how to do it:

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