The Real “Millennials”? Older Americans

Nov 20, 2017

Known for their prioritizing of personal values over pecuniary interests, Millennials are considered the generation most likely to challenge the practices of the traditional workforce and radically shift the working landscape. While they’re certainly driving the working world to reconsider its practices, it’s older Americans who are more extensively embodying these qualities most stereotypically attributed to the youngest generation in the workforce.

A recent piece for The Atlantic paints a picture of a “generation of U.S. workers with those non-monetary values and gig-style jobs” that’s not Millennials but rather America’s oldest generation. It might sound bizarre to consider that the generation that worked the nine-to-five office job, clocking in decades of quintessential 40-hour-work-week discipline could be described as such, but Derek Thompson, who wrote this article paints a vivid picture of the conditions that have led older Americans to be actually more millennial than Millennials themselves:

“There is little question that an aging workforce—and an aging country—is one of the most important features of the modern economy. By 2024, one quarter of the workforce will be 55 and over—more than twice what the share was in 1994. And as they extend their working years, sometimes by choice and sometimes by necessity, it’s older Americans who are quietly adopting Millennial stereotypes, far more than actual Millennials are.”

Moving beyond the standard career model that concludes in a complete removal from the workforce, retirement-age Americans are coming to increasingly adopt alternative employment opportunities that prioritize their lifestyle preferences, like increased time for family, travel, and hobbies, all the while meeting their either need or desire to continue earning income and engaging their advanced professional skillset. As Thompson explains it, the “stereotype of the carefree freelancer who values meaning over money seems like it would most apply to somebody who’s not desperately poor, yet is anxious enough about their financial condition to work several jobs to make extra cash.” Which is exactly where an increasing number of retirement-age professionals are finding themselves.

With Americans over 65 being four times more likely to be working part-time jobs or to be self-employed than Americans in their mid-30s and under, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as workers from 55 to 75 years of age being 70 percent more likely to be engaged in freelance or part-time work, non-standard work arrangements are becoming a major workforce trend in the last decade, and older Americans are driving it. In industries like insurance, which face daunting talent gaps if the majority of their retirement-age professionals follow past protocol and retire fully, it behooves employers to consider how the gig-economy and contract-based employment might be mutually beneficial to both employers and the generation of seasoned professionals that are proving themselves still to be incredibly capable of work, as well as highly adaptive and motivated to continue earning income creatively and efficiently.


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