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The Importance of Bridge Jobs

This investigation used the Core and War Babies samples from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to examine factors that explain the utilization of flexible work options by older workers. The study included three phases, each exploring some aspect of bridge jobs, in which workers gradually leave the labor force. First, during year 1, the research focused on the reasons for and economic consequences of gradual exits from the labor force. Second, during year 2, the investigation turned to self-employment and retiree well-being as facets of bridge jobs. Finally, the year 3 investigation focused on re-entry into the labor force.

key research questions

Phase I

Today’s Older Workers and Exiting/Remaining in the Workforce

  • Why are many of today’s retirees exiting the workforce gradually, in stages, and what are the economic consequences of doing so?
  • To what extent is the decision to work voluntary and to what extent are financial needs keeping older workers in the labor force?
  • What are the characteristics of older Americans who stay working later in life, and what are the characteristics of the jobs and work they choose?

Phase II

Self-Employment Transitions among Older American Workers with Career Jobs

  • What role does self-employment play in the retirement process?
  • How common are transitions into self-employment later in life and what are the key determinants of these job changes

Phase III

Re-Entry into the Workforce

  • To what extent do older Americans re-enter the labor force after exiting directly from career employment?
  • What are the key determinants of re-entry?
  • To what extent are these re-entry decisions anticipated prior to leaving career employment?

selected findings

Phase I

  • The majority of older Americans with career jobs retire gradually, in stages, rather than all at once.
  • The majority of older Americans leaving full-time career employment (about 60 percent of those leaving a full-time career job after age 50 and about 53 percent of those leaving after age 55) moved first to a bridge job rather than directly out of the labor force.
  • The utilization of bridge jobs was more common among younger respondents, respondents without defined-benefit pension plans, and respondents at both the lower and upper ends of the wage distribution.
  • Key determinants of retirement, such as age, health status, and health insurance and pension status, influence the work decisions across both cohorts of retirees.
  • Self-employment may be used as a mechanism by which retirees gain work flexibility later in life. Those who are self-employed tend to work similar hours on full-time career jobs as their wage-and-salary counterparts. This relationship changes on the bridge job, as those who are self-employed then tend to work fewer hours.

Phase II

  • Post-career transitions into self-employment are common. Approximately 10 percent of HRS respondents with wage-and-salary career jobs later in life switch into self-employment prior to exiting the labor force, and between 25-30 percent of respondents with self-employment career jobs later in life switch into wage-and-salary jobs prior to exiting the labor force.
  • Health status and occupation on the career job are main determinants of transitions into self-employment later in life.
  • Voluntary transitions from career jobs were associated with having a college degree, portable health insurance, or a defined benefit pension.

Phase III

  • Approximately 15 percent of respondents re-entered the labor force after “retiring” directly from full time career (FTC) employment.
  • Self-employed workers transition out of the labor force more slowly than wage-and-salary workers: 65 percent of men who were self-employed in 1992 were still working by 2004, compared to only 40 percent of the wage-and-salary men. A similar pattern, though a smaller difference, existed between the self-employed and wage-and-salary women.
  • More wage-and-salary workers shift to self-employment than self-employed workers switch to wage-and-salary jobs. Self-employed men in the sample moved to wage-and-salary work at about twice the rate that wage-and-salary men moved to self-employment. But because there are so many more wage-and-salary than self-employed workers--about 4 to 1-- the net impact was a rise in the number of self-employed. A similar trend was observed among the FTC women.




For questions of information regarding the Importance of Bridge Jobs project, or to schedule a conversation with any of the Center’s team, please contact:

617-552-9195 |


the importance of bridge jobs team

Kevin E. Cahill, PhD
Research Economist
Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College
Michael Giandrea, PhD
Research Economist
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Joseph F. Quinn, PhD
Professor, James P. McIntyre Chair in Economics
Department of Economics, Boston College