Older worker in conference room

It’s well-known that baby boomers are living longer lives while managing chronic health concerns. And those health-related issues appear to be hampering the job prospects of the group’s youngest cohort, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The findings, published last week, are from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, a 41-year survey of almost 10,000 men and women born in the latter years of the Baby Boom, from 1957 to 1964, who now are aged 58 to 66. (The entire Baby Boom began in 1946 and ended in 1964.)

The survey’s most recent interviews, conducted in 2020 and 2021, and a look back at the respondents’ work history, revealed an increase in work-life challenges for this younger cohort as they aged.

The percent of individuals reporting that their health limits the kind or amount of work they can do increased with age. At 34 years old, 5% said that their health interfered with work prospects. That number rose to 10% by 44 years of age and to 21% by age 56. 

Education status and gender were linked to the findings, the report found. The percentage of people reporting health-related work limitations was higher overall for those with less education, and women were more likely to report those limitations than were men. At 44 years of age, 12% of women and 8% of men reported that health problems interfered with work prospects, increasing to 24% of women and 19% of men at age 56.

The responses also differed by race, with 30% of Black respondents reporting health-related work constraints compared with 20% of white respondents and 23% of Hispanic or Latino respondents.

Among the survey’s additional findings, growth in hourly earnings appeared to stagnate early in the young baby boomers’ careers. Inflation-adjusted hourly earnings reached a crest in the workers’ late teens and early 20s, although earnings growth rates generally were higher for those with bachelor’s degrees or higher when compared with those who had less education, the investigators reported.

For those starting new work, job duration was longer for older employees, but the cohort had short-duration jobs overall. For example, 25% of respondents who started a job between the ages of 35 and 44 no longer had that job within a year, and 61% reported that their jobs ended in fewer than 5 years. In addition, men generally spent a larger percent of weeks (83%) employed than did women (72%), and women had twice as much time out of the labor force, at 24% of weeks, as men (12% of weeks).