Limited Engagements? Women's and Men's Work/Volunteer Time in the Encore Life Course Stage

Soc Probl. 2013 May;60(2):10.1525/sp.2013.60.2.206. doi: 10.1525/sp.2013.60.2.206.


Americans are living healthier and longer lives, but the shifting age distribution is straining existing and projected social welfare protections for older adults (e.g., Social Security, Medicare). One solution is to delay retirement. Another is an alternative to "total leisure" retirement -- an "encore" stage of paid or unpaid engagement coming after career jobs but before infirmities associated with old age. We draw on gendered life-course themes together with data from the American Time Use Survey (2003-2009) to examine the real time American men and women ages 50-75 apportion to paid work and unpaid volunteer work on an average day, as well as factors predicting their time allocations. We find that while full-time employment declines after the 50s, many Americans allot time to more limited engagements - working part time, being self-employed, volunteering, helping out - through and even beyond their 60s. Caring for a child or infirm adult reduces the odds of paid work but not volunteering. While time working for pay declines with age (though more slowly for men than women), time volunteering does not. Older men and women in poor health, without a college degree, with a disability or SSI income are the least likely to be publicly engaged. This social patterning illustrates that while the ideal of an encore of paid or unpaid voluntary, flexible, and meaningful engagement is an emerging reality for some, it appears less attainable for others. This suggests the importance of organizational and public policy innovations offering all Americans a range of encore opportunities.

Keywords: Encore; Gendered Life Course; Older Workers; Retirement; Third Age; Time Use.