We’re Working Longer Now, but Maybe Not Tomorrow

Americans have been working longer (in years) — and the researcher/author of this MarketWatch blog post says that is a good thing. But recent findings suggest that the primary factor has been increased educational attainment among men. With that pattern showing signs of slowing down, will the opportunities and desires to continue to remain in the workforce also be scaled back?

As a strong proponent of working longer, I have been delighted to see the increase in the labor-force participation of men age 60 to 74 in recent years.   I, and other researchers, attribute this pattern to a host of factors, including changes in Social Security (lower replacement rates as the full retirement age increases and the maturation of the delayed retirement credit); the shift from defined-benefit plans with strong early-retirement incentives to 401(k)s; an improvement in the health and education of older workers; less physically demanding jobs; the desire to postpone retirement until the availability of Medicare; and the joint decision-making of dual-earner couples.   With all these forces at play, my assumption was that we would continue to see gains in the labor force activity of older workers as they responded to declines in the retirement income system by remaining in the labor force longer.
A recent study by Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution has caused me to worry.   Burtless explored the extent to which the increased educational attainment of older workers – both absolutely and relative to the attainment of prime-age workers – could explain their greater labor force participation. 
The gains in educational attainment among older men have been dramatic.  In 1985, only 15% of men age 60 to 74 had been to college; today that fraction has more than doubled, reaching 32%.  Similarly, in 1985, more than 40% of older men had not finished high school; today only 13% lack a high school diploma.
Just as important, the gap in education levels between older and younger men has largely disappeared.  For example, men in their early 60s are now as likely to have completed college as those in their early 40s.  These two groups are also similar in terms of the percentage who lack a high school diploma.  As the educational gap between older and younger workers has narrowed, so too has the wage gap.  Today, men age 60 to 74 earn about the same as their counterparts age 35 to 54.

Employees More Ethical on the Homefront

Telecommuters are more ethical than those toiling in the office every day — or maybe being at home or another remote location simply offers fewer opportunities to get oneself into trouble.

Those are the less than clear conclusions from a recent study.

In a survey of 200 firms by the Ethisphere Institute and Jones Lang LaSalle, only 11 percent said work-from-home employees had committed ethics violations in the past two years.

But 36 percent reported "visible ethics violations" by employees who don’t work from home regularly, and 43 percent reported non-visible violations for this group, such as expense account fraud or bribery, MarketWatch reports.

Those of us who usually work from home would like to think this is because of our high ethical standards.

But it turns out we are nothing special. We’re just isolated.

"You can see why someone working from home wouldn’t get embroiled in some of the things that lead to trouble," Mark Ohringer, executive vice president and global general counsel for Jones Lang LaSalle, was quoted as saying.

When a worker isn’t in the office, the opportunity to tell inappropriate jokes or harass people diminishes (much to our annoyance).

Other misconduct includes theft, expense-report abuse and misusing social media, other experts say. In fact, the employee’s eagerness to maintain his or her work-from-home privilege may make that person extra careful to comply with a company’s ethics policy, MarketWatch says.

Telecommuting is becoming increasingly popular, and some employees may also behave well because they’re afraid of losing their work-from-home privileges, MarketWatch states.