How old is too old to work?

If you’re feeling pressure to throw in the towel, use these tips to stave off retirement and remain relevant to the workforce.

How old is too old to work?

How old is "old," exactly?

While many people dream of early retirement, there are some who are perfectly content with working well into their golden years. The unemployment rate for workers 55 and over is at 6.7%, just over a full point lower than the national average of all workers. In fact, the American workforce is aging, with nearly 25% of the workforce projected to be over 55 years old by 2026. The question is, how old is "old" when it comes to work?

While answers may vary by individual since it often depends on a person’s physical health, the nature of the job, and their financial situation, research shows that it’s going to become increasingly common to work past retirement age.

In fact, less than half (45%) of workers 45+ said they expect to retire at or before age 65, according to an AARP study. When that same question was posed in 2004, the number was 62%.

For those who plan to stay in the workforce for the long haul, here’s what you need to know.

Is age bias common?

Short answer: Yes, though ageism doesn’t appear to be rampant across the board. However, in certain industries, it’s almost unheard of to see people in their 50s or 60s thriving. Take tech, for example, where how old is "old" is a lot sooner than you might think.

“Being in Silicon Valley, we face real age discrimination and the work culture is definitely one of youth,” says Dave Arnold, President of Arnold Partners, LLC, an executive recruiting firm. 

Age bias can certainly hamper older job seekers. “It can come in the form of employment algorithms that screen out anyone above a certain age, or job advertisements that call for ‘digital natives,’ or that prospective employers think an experienced candidate will cost too much without ever asking,” says Susan Weinstock, AARP Vice President of Financial Resilience Programming.

The good news is that many companies have really come to value the skill sets, knowledge, and work ethic that more experienced workers can offer. One study commissioned by AARP called A Business Case for Workers Age 50+: A Look at the Value of Experience found that members of the workforce who are 50 and older continue to be the most engaged age cohort.

Weinstock also points out that studies reveal older workers to be:

  • Less resistant to change
  • Less likely to leave the organization
  • Less likely to miss work
  • Innovative and able to keep up with technology

How to embrace your age

Working well into your retirement years is certainly possible, but it does require personal branding effort and sometimes even a little creative career reshaping. Consider this: Nearly 40% of workers age 50 and over haven’t updated their resume in the past decade and, for those age 65 and over, the figure jumps to nearly 50%, according to a 2017 national AARP survey.

In other words, just because you’ve been working for decades doesn’t mean you should take your foot off the gas—not if you want to have career staying power, that is. Keeping your resume updated is just the start. Here are some other strategies to try:

Stay in the know. Keeping your personal brand fresh, current, and relevant is especially important for older workers since one of the potential hesitations a prospective employer may have is that you’re not “up-to-date” on the latest trends, says Joseph Liu, career consultant and host of the Career Relaunch podcast.

To stay informed, he recommends subscribing to relevant industry newsletters and podcasts to learn about trends, leaders, and happenings, and attending conferences to hear the latest thinking on hot topics in your field.

Unplug from your old tech ways. “I think technology bias is valid in some cases, so it is important that as people go through their career they are continually learning the latest technologies,” says Arnold. Do what you can to demonstrate that continual learning and self-improvement are part of your core values by taking training courses and embracing new technologies.

Dress the part. Keeping well-groomed and wearing modern styles can go a long way, says Arnold. “Hire a personal shopper to help you dress, and work with your stylist—or go to a younger one—to keep appropriately current,” he suggests. This is especially important if you’re doing the job interview circuit.

Consider an age-friendly career switch. If you’re not having luck finding positions in your field (or keep facing the “overqualified” dead end), consulting work could be the answer.

“Consulting is one potential industry where being an older worker could be an asset,” says Liu, “especially because dependability, domain expertise, a wealth of knowledge and skills, and a mature, well-informed outlook can be incredibly useful.”

Although you might think of your age as an asset, it’s important to understand that not everyone will. “Companies talk about cultural fit, but it is a mistake to equate age with culture,” says Arnold. “I have met people of all ages who retain their sense of youth and vigor.” And so can you if you keep your skills fresh and embrace change.

Search smarter

When you find an employer who doesn't worry about how old is "old" and instead appreciates you for who you are—at any age—you’ll never be too old to work. Could you use some help with your job search? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent straight to your inbox to cut down on the time you’d spend reading job ads. Remember: Talent doesn’t diminish with age. Get out there!