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Many Older Workers Do Hard Physical Jobs

They drive trucks, clean buildings and fill other arduous roles, a study finds

Package delivery workers shake hands over boxes
Statistics show that all five of the top job opportunities for older men are in fields requiring physical exertion.
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Not only are a lot of older Americans putting off retirement these days, but many — particularly men — are working at arduous jobs that you might expect younger people to fill.

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In a recently published report by the Urban Institute, a social and economic policy think tank, researchers Richard Johnson and Claire Xiaozhi Wang analyzed data from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study. They found that the most common occupation for men age 62 and older is delivery worker or truck driver, which the US Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as “physically demanding” because it requires lifting, carrying and walking to load or unload cargo.

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Janitorial and cleaning work comes in second, and farming and ranching is third. Two less physical occupations — practicing law and teaching elementary or high school — round out the top five.

While many older workers want to transition into less grueling work, “We found that a lot of them are still doing jobs that are pretty physically demanding,” Johnson said.

When it comes to getting a new job, all five of the top opportunities for men are in fields requiring physical exertion. Trucking and janitorial work again ranked first, followed by grounds maintenance, retail sales — which can require a lot of standing — and agriculture.

For women 62 and older, the most common occupation is teacher, followed by secretary or administrative assistant. But the next three occupations — personal-care aide for an elderly or disabled person, registered nurse and child care worker — all have physical demands. For newly hired women 62 and older, the top job was personal-care aide, followed by child care worker, teacher, secretary, and nurse, psychiatric or home-health aide.

Johnson said a lack of a college education limits older Americans' opportunities for less physical jobs.

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