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The Future of Work for People 50+ Will Surprise You

15 jaw-dropping predictions for 5 years, 10 years and way into the future

By Richard Eisenberg

“Genius clubs” to channel older workers’ talents. Mandatory retirement — at 80. A “dynamic” work/life path, instead of today’s linear path. The end of the expectation of rising pay as you age. Volunteering: the new status symbol. Unions for older workers. These are some of the fascinating forecasts I’ve just heard regarding the future of work for Americans over 50.

These predictions I just received from experts, which I’ll elaborate on shortly, are part of Next Avenue’s month-long series on the future for Americans over 50 to celebrate our site’s fifth anniversary. Our previous pieces: “The Future of Health for Americans Over 50,” “Personal Finance Forecasts for Americans Over 50,”  “How People 50+ Will Live in the Near and Distant Future” and “What the Future of Adult Learning Will Look Like.” Coming up: The Future of Caregiving for People 50+.

To help set the scene, let me share what Roy Bahat, head of Bloomberg Beta and co-chair of The Shift Commission on Work, Workers and Technology, told the Milken Institute Global Conference I recently attended in Los Angeles: “As much as we like to talk about Millennials, the future of work is much older.” By 2024, his Shift Commission report notes, nearly one-quarter of the workforce is projected to be 55 or older — more than double the share in 1994.

What’s more, falling fertility rates and tighter immigration rules mean U.S. employers will likely need to hire and keep older workers just to get the job done in coming decades, according to Andrew Scott, author of The 100-Year Life. As MIT AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin said at the Milken Institute Global Conference: “We will need older workers to do the work.”

In addition, “workers 65+ will be attractive to employers because they use Medicare for their primary insurance, reducing benefit costs for employers,” say futurists Katherine LY Green, of Green Consulting Group, and John Mahaffie and Jennifer Jarratt, founders of Leading Futurists.  (The trio combined forces for their Next Avenue predictions and provided them in writing.)

As Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute for the Future of Aging, has written: “Older people have so much to offer as workers, colleagues and mentors. It is in the business community’s self-interest to recruit, train, promote and retain them.” Problem is, Irving notes, right now, “Only a few companies are doing so.”

That will change, especially in 10 years or so, according to the futurists and Big Thinkers who shared their visions with me.

The key to employment for workers 50+ going forward, say Green, Mahaffie and Jarratt, is “anticipatory careering.” That means, they say, being mindful about if, how and when your skills might become obsolete; anticipating emerging jobs and careers you can transition into; and using your time, money and energy to create a balanced working life that spans age 18 to 80.

Here are 15 forecasts for the future of work for Americans over 50, split by time period:

In the Next 5 Years

Many 50+ workers will delay retirement a few years or work part-time in retirement for extra income, say Green, Mahaffie and Jarratt. “There’s a shift in cultural expectations about when to retire, as it becomes increasingly clear that funding 20 to 30 extra years on a fixed income is both uncertain and risky,” they note. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 32 percent of Americans age 65 to 74 will be working by 2022, up from about 18 percent today.

Corporate America will greatly expand job flexibility options to keep valuable boomer and Gen X employees, says Lawrence R. Samuel, author of Aging in America. Increasingly, people over 50 will decide when, and how much, they want to work, and employers will adapt to their wishes.

Many boomers and Gen X'ers will embark on second or “encore” careers, for financial and social reasons, says Samuel. And their employers may help them do it. In the near future, predicts Jim Emerman, executive vice president for, “employers will begin providing those about to retire with both information and experiences to prepare them for second and third acts for the greater good.” They’ll want to be seen, Emerman says, as “not just good places to work, but good places from which to launch a next chapter.”

There will be a surge in volunteers at nonprofits and service organizations, Samuel expects. Ken Dychtwald, of AgeWave, made a similar prediction in a 2015 study he did with Merrill Lynch: Giving in Retirement, America’s Longevity Bonus.

In 10 Years

Green, Mahaffie and Jarratt predict “new forms of unions, organizations and alumni groups to advocate and provide services for older workers, that could include job-finding, marketing and legal.” Companies often have informal groups of their LGBTQ, minority and female workers. Why not ones for their 50+ workers?

Employers will do a better job finding ways to accommodate older workers. Green, Mahaffie and Jarratt expect to see “special attention to health and safety concerns in both blue- and white-collar jobs.”

Millions will transition from full-time jobs to part-time work, predicts Samuel. Look for growing numbers of older Americans in the gig economy, working freelance, with short-term contracts or with pick-up jobs. Older workers will represent “the vast majority of the growth of alternate work and contracting projects,” Bahat told me.

Volunteering and service will become “primary status symbols,” says Samuel. These altruistic efforts will be looked on with envy even more than net worth, he adds.

Further Into the Future: ‘Jetsons’ Predictions

Working into your 70s will be more common. Credit a combination of health breakthroughs allowing it, financial concerns encouraging it and employers wanting reliable, knowledgeable, mentoring workers. Green, Mahaffie and Jarratt foresee medical advances likely reducing the frequency and severity of heart disease and diabetes, enabling longer working futures.


“Over the next two decades, adults 50+ will likely see greater rates of workforce participation into their sixth and seventh decade,” wrote the futurist trio. “The trend of working well into the third quarter of life, for pay and/or satisfaction, will be increasingly expected and common.”

But much older workers may be forced to retire by law. Samuel predicts “new mandatory retirement regulations will push 80-somethings out of the workplace.”

The key word for workers over 50 will be “alongside.” For instance, they’ll often be working alongside AI-engineered robots (rather than losing jobs to them), say Green, Mahaffie and Jarratt. This echoes the recent Next Avenue blog post I wrote, “Why Robots Won’t Be Coming for All Our Jobs.”

Also, "there may be more situations of volunteers working alongside paid workers, maybe even managing projects or teams,” write the futurist trio.

And older Americans will increasingly have positions alongside workers who are much younger — as well as some who are older.

Say goodbye to the traditional expectation of earning more each successive year of work. “The idea that we have a steadily advancing pay scale will be questioned,” Bahat told me. “People will be paid based on what they can do.”

This may be particularly true for professionals. The three futurists wrote: “White-collar workers who are downsized or displaced will be more likely to find replacement jobs, but often for less money.”

Say goodbye, too, to the traditional linear life of education, work and then retirement. Emerman and others expect instead to see “dynamic” lives, where Americans bounce in and out of school, work and non-work throughout their adult years. Green, Mahaffie and Jarratt add caregiving as another interval in this mix.

“People will work throughout the life course, with multiple sabbaticals or gap years to learn, retrain or travel,” Emerman says.

“Genius clubs” and other forms of organized groups will likely emerge to “organize and channel older workers’ talents, products and services for pay and “do-good” projects, say Green, Mahaffie and Jarratt.

And in the next 20 years, the most enduring legacy for people over 50, says Samuel, will be their collective donation of time and money. That’s a nice way to finish this forecast roundup, I think.

Incidentally, The Shift Commission just released a fascinating report on the future of work in America, after it brought together 100 experts to study the subject over the course of a year. I encourage you to check it out.

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Photograph of Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the former Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and former Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of "How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis" and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Read More
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