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What Older Adults Think About Work During the Pandemic

AARP survey finds retirement and remote work shaped big decisions

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In what has come to be called the Great Resignation, many workers are switching jobs to find a more suitable position, while businesses are scrambling to hire — and hang on to — employees. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause businesses and families to make daily decisions about the best practices to protect their health.

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All this uncertainty means some people 50 and older must make choices about their health, career or retirement without a clear picture of how things might look in a year or two. To get a sense of how older adults have managed their jobs and careers during the past two years, AARP Research conducted a survey of 3,685 people 50 and older in late December 2021. The results suggest that while the pandemic has had a broad impact, proximity to planned retirement age may have played a bigger role in older adults’ decision-making.

Here are three key takeaways from the survey:

1. Many older adults have stopped working.

Much of the conversation about jobs right now focuses on people quitting one job to find a new job that pays more or is a better fit. But for older adults, the discussion appears to be much different. Many are choosing not to work, whether they are retiring, waiting until things get better with the pandemic or taking time off for some other reason. According to the survey, 51 percent of respondents said they were currently not working, and most of this group (87 percent) said it has been two years or more since they last held a job.

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The survey suggests that among those older adults who are not working now, there’s no rush to find new employment. More than nine out of 10 of these adults said they were not planning to look for employment during the next six months.

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2. Being close to retirement played a big role in decisions.

Among the people surveyed who had left the workforce, 32 percent said they made the choice because they were close to retirement age. Overall, many of these adults who stopped working — 61 percent — said they would have quit or retired when they did even if the pandemic had not happened.

There were, however, big differences in how people of different racial backgrounds answered this question. Only 55 percent of Hispanic respondents said they would have retired even without the pandemic, while 68 percent of Black respondents said the same. Among white respondents, 62 percent said the pandemic did not affect their decision on when to retire.

3. Work-life balance is tricky when you work from home.

Only 28 percent of the people surveyed said their job let them work all or some of their hours remotely before the pandemic. That number jumped to 53 percent being able to work from home during the pandemic.

While people 50 and older generally find the possibility of remote work appealing, they recognize there are some challenges that come along with it. Work-life balance appears to be the biggest concern, with 36 percent of remote workers surveyed saying that it was either somewhat or very difficult to really end work each day, since work and home life are happening in the same place.

Missing out on the social experience of being in an office was another downside remote workers pointed out. Among those surveyed, 33 percent said that being isolated from coworkers was either somewhat or very difficult.

Despite these challenges, 77 percent of those who have been able to work from home during the pandemic would prefer to continue to do so, according to the survey.

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