More Americans over 75 are working than ever — and they’re probably having more fun than you

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Peter Kraus started working the day after he turned 18, when he was hired by an uncle who was a rare book dealer. Sixty years later, he’s still selling books — and loving it. 

“I’m one of those lucky people — I adore what I do and I’ve never contemplated giving it up,” said the 78-year-old Kraus, owner of Ursus Books in Manhattan. Kraus said he started Ursus Books —  which sells rare books such as a 1926 publication by surrealist Man Ray called “Revolving Doors” (price tag: $85,000) — in a fifth-floor walk-up on West 23rd Street in the 1970s.

Asked if he considers retiring, Kraus laughed. “Oh, no, no, no. I’ll retire in a wooden box.” 

Kraus said his younger daughter, a former human rights attorney, has joined him in the book business. His older daughter, Nicola Kraus, is a novelist who co-wrote “The Nanny Diaries.”

Kraus is among one of the fastest-growing groups of U.S. workers: people 75 and older. Granted, this group of workers is a fraction of the overall workforce, and three-quarters of people over 65 are retired. But more Americans are pursuing careers long past the typical retirement age, a shift that comes as the oldest baby boomers hit their late 70s and as better health among adults allows them to extend their working lives. 

Older Americans “are, thanks to medical science, living longer than their parents and grandparents, and they’re different in attitude,” said Bob Morison, a senior advisor at consultancy Age Wave and the co-author of “What Retirees Want: A Holistic View of Life’s Third Age.” “They’re aware that they have more years and that there’s a lot of time to fill.”

In 2002, about 1 in 20 people over age 75 were working in the U.S., although by 2022, that share had jumped up to 1 in 12, according to data from the Labor Department. By 2032, about 1 in 10 people over 75 will still be working, even as the agency predicts the share of younger workers to be flat or slightly down over the same period. This jump can be partly due to the shift in views about retirement, with some Americans wanting to work past 65 due to professional goals. Others need to continue to work due to insufficient retirement savings.

Work that they love

Many Americans who work in their late 70s and beyond are often motivated to stay in the workforce for a handful of reasons, Morison said. “One is that they love their work — it can be work they’ve always done, or it may be a second career that they started after retiring from what they’ve always done,” he noted. 

Some people enjoy their colleagues and want the social interaction that comes from their job, while others may want to contribute to their community or industry, such as the case of some public officials and business leaders, he noted. Workers over 75 have garnered more attention of late given the ages of some of America’s top elected leaders, including President Joe Biden, who is 80, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, 81. 

As U.S. elected officials are getting older, so are concerns among more voters about their abilities to handle the job. Slightly more than half of people polled by CBS News said they believe that the jobs of president and senator are too demanding for people over 75, while 8 in 10 Americans say they have concerns about the abilities of elected officials over 75. 

But generally, people are now hitting the traditional retirement age of 65 are in better health than prior generations, thanks to advances in maternal care, public health and other medical leaps that have changed the health trajectories of Americans born in the 1930s and later, said to Dan Belsky, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health who studies aging. 

Even so, he noted that people who work into their 80s tend to be the exception rather than the norm. About 26% of people between 65 to 74 are continuing to work, and that number shrinks to about 7.3% for people over 75, according to census data.

“We can recognize that these folks are indeed not representative of the underlying cohorts that they’re born into,” he said. 
“Nevertheless, it’s worth observing that there are, in fact, a lot of hale, vigorous, active 70-somethings and 80-somethings and even 90-somethings out there.”

“We’re balling now”

There are a few commonalities between people over 75 who are continuing to work, according to experts and workers themselves. For starters: Health is a major determinant of whether you’ll still be working in your 70s and beyond.

“The first unifying characteristic is good health — and it’s your good health and then also the relative good health of your spouse and people for whom you have immediate responsibility, unless you have the resources to have other people caring for them,” said Ruth Finkelstein, the executive director of Hunter College’s Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging.

Secondly, people with college degrees are more likely to work into their 70s and beyond, Finkelstein said. About 20% of people with bachelor’s degrees were working at age 70 in 2017, compared with 10% of people with a high school education or less, she said, citing an analysis of census data.

Because of that, older workers tend to be professionals, in industries such as education or management, while many are also working in artistic fields, she said. And, she said, up to one-quarter of people over 70 who are working are self-employed. 

Among those who fit that bill: Shelly Clark, 76, a singer, dancer and actress whose R&B group Honey Cone first scored hits in the 1960s and made appearances on “Soul Train,” “American Bandstand” and other shows. Clark said she’s now prepping another tour and enjoying her career more than when she was younger. 

“We’re balling now and having more fun, and we are in our 70s,” Clark said, speaking from Las Vegas, where her husband, Earth, Wind & Fire co-founder Verdine White, also in his 70s, was performing with his group.

“When we were in our 20s and 30s, more was expected of us — we had to be under the rules of the record company and management,” she said.

“Now I’m more calling the shots.”

The new American dream: Working forever?

Asked if she thinks about retiring, Clark said it’s a “dirty word” in her house. “Right now we are having so much fun, that even though it may be something I address eventually and my husband too, we never talk about that,” she added. 

But of course, there’s a darker side to people who work into their 70s and beyond, said Hunter College’s Finkelstein.

“There’s the sort of other end of the spectrum from people who work in knowledge industries and have jobs that they love,” she said. “They are people who have no means of support in retirement and have to keep working whether they really can or not.”

Many of those workers are employed in gig jobs like Uber drivers or are working as cleaners, babysitters or caregivers, Finkelstein said. And some people simply don’t have enough benefits through Social Security or haven’t saved much on their own, an issue that particularly affects women, who are more likely to have taken time out of the workforce to provide unpaid care for children and older relatives.

Increasingly, many younger workers fear they’ll slip into that group, research indicates. About 1 in 5 Americans believe they’ll never retire, and point to financial worries for that belief, according to a recent Axios/Ipsos poll. And there’s good reason for those fears, with the majority of low-income workers nearing 65 without any retirement savings. 

“The idea that we’ve all been saving for our retirement is only true for people who earn enough money to save for retirement,” Finkelstein said. 

Advice from those in their 70s and 80s

Control over one’s career and time was a theme among the older workers interviewed by CBS MoneyWatch. But, they said, getting older while working also means taking time for things they might not have paid attention to when they were younger, like pacing themselves and investing in physical health. 

Look for work that engages you, or seek out new opportunities that use your skills, said Peter Tanous, 85, a writer of books such as “Investment Gurus” and the founder and chairman of Lynx Investment Advisory, who lives in Washington, D.C. Tanous said he works about 20 hours a week, including writing, meeting with clients and working with various boards he serves on. 

But, he said, don’t neglect your health when you are in your 50s and 60s. Tanous also said he works with a personal trainer several times during the week to maintain his fitness. “I can do a one-minute plank, which I’m proud of,” he said. 

Clark, the singer, said she has become more careful about her health and pacing herself. “Now you may have to warm up more, or may have to do stretches more,” she said. “We have to be smarter in everything we do — in traveling, recording, whatever falls into the banner of being an artist in your 70s.”

She said, “I believe we have the advantage, but we also have to slow it down.”

As for bookseller Kraus, he said he’s a “maniac” traveler, including his annual trip to Japan to scout for rare books. Meeting clients or friends for lunch is key to maintaining his positive outlook, he added, as well as putting together new catalogs and hunting down acquisitions at other bookshops or auction houses.

“You have to find something that you really enjoy, and if it’s what you do as work, then why would you stop it?” said Kraus. “I mean, I’m lucky nobody can fire me — there’s nobody to say you have to stop.”

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