Kay Abramowitz has been working, with a few breaks, since she was 14. Now 76, she is a partner in a law firm in Portland, Ore. — with no intention of stopping anytime soon. “Retirement or death is always on the horizon, but I have no plans,” she said. “I’m actually having way too much fun.”
The arc of women’s working lives is changing — reaching higher levels when they’re younger and stretching out much longer — according to two newanalyses of census, earnings and retirement data that provide the most comprehensive look yet at women’s career paths.
Over all, the paths look much more like men’s careers than they used to. Women are more likely than in previous generations to work at almost every point in their lives, including in their 20s and 30s when they often used to be home with children. Now, if mothers take breaks at all, it’s often not until their late 30s or early 40s — and those who leave are likely to return to the labor force.
Most striking, women have become significantly more likely to work into their 60s and even 70s, often full time, according to the analyses. And many of these women report that they do it because they enjoy it.
The data adds a bright chapter to the narrative of women’s progress in the world of work. Even though their participation in the labor force in the United States has flattened in recent years, and as mothers especially face serious challenges, women are working more than ever and getting fulfillment, not just income, from their jobs.
Nearly 30 percent of women 65 to 69 are working, up from 15 percent in the late 1980s, one of the analyses, by the Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, found. Eighteen percent of women 70 to 74 work, up from 8 percent.
This rejection of retirement is more common among women with higher education and savings, though not confined to them. Those who are not working are more likely to have poor health and low savings, and to be dependent on Social Security and sometimes disability benefits, Ms. Goldin said.
Of those still working, Ms. Goldin said, “They’re in occupations in which they really have an identity.” She added, “Women have more education, they’re in jobs that are more fulfilling, and they stay with them.” (Ms. Goldin happens to be an example of the phenomenon, as a 70-year-old professor and researcher.)
Men’s employment after age 60 has also risen, since about 1994, but not as steeply as women’s. About 60 percent of men 60 to 64 work, and just over half of women in that age range do.