Most Workers Expect to Keep Working After Retirement Age

More say they would do so out of choice than out of necessity

PRINCETON, NJ -- A combined 8 in 10 American workers think they will continue working full or part time after they reach retirement age. Proportionately more of these workers, 44% to 36%, say they will do so because they "want to" rather than because they "will have to."

When you reach retirement age, do you think you will -- continue working and work full time, continue working and work part time, or stop working altogether? And would you do that because you want to or because you will have to? April 2011

Overall, most workers expect to work part time after retirement age (63%), rather than to work full time (18%) or stop working altogether (18%). Those who expect to work full time are twice as likely to say they will do so out of need rather than as a choice. In contrast, those who expect to stop working overwhelmingly say it is because they want to. Workers who expect to work on a part-time basis are more likely to say they will want to work than will need to do so.

Expectations for Working Past Retirement Age, April 2011

Expectations for working past retirement age are largely similar across demographic subgroups, with some minor variations by income. Upper-income workers -- those whose annual household income is $75,000 or greater -- are somewhat less likely than middle- and lower-income workers to expect to work past retirement age, but the vast majority of each income group expects to keep working.

Expectations for Working Past Retirement Age, by Annual Household Income, April 2011

There is little difference in part-time vs. full-time work expectations by income level.

Gallup asked the question about working past retirement in its annual Economy and Personal Finance poll, conducted April 7-11. The question did not define "retirement age" but allowed workers to interpret it in their own way. In fact, the poll did find about 1 in 10 respondents aged 65 or older saying they are employed.

Relatively Few Current Retirees Rely on Part-Time Work

The 80% of current workers expecting to work past retirement age highlights the differences in retirement experience and expectations between current and future retirees. A separate question in the poll found a total of 18% of current retirees saying part-time work is a major (2%) or minor source (16%) of retirement income for them, compared with 74% of nonretirees (including those currently working and those not working) who expect part-time work to be a major (22%) or minor (52%) source of income in retirement.

Additionally, current retirees say they retired at age 60, on average, compared with nonretirees' average expectation of retiring at age 66. The average expected retirement age among nonretirees has increased in recent years.


The common expectation among today's workers that they will continue working once they reach retirement age underscores the changing nature of the retirement landscape in the United States, partly because of changes in the economics of retirement and partly because of individuals' desired level of activity in retirement. Changes in the payment of Social Security benefits in recent decades as well as many employers' moving away from guaranteed pensions for retirees in favor of employee-directed retirement savings plans -- in addition to the high cost of healthcare -- have altered the economic calculus of retirement. Also, the significant percentage of workers who say they will continue working beyond retirement age because they "want to" suggests American workers may be less interested in a lifestyle free from work in their older years, regardless of their economic situation.

As more and more baby boomers retire, an emerging question is whether there will be enough jobs for older workers who want to work, particularly if the overall employment situation remains weak.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 7-11, 2011, with a random sample of 534 employed adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of employed adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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