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Older Workers Keep Jobs Because They're More Productive, Educated

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Conventional wisdom has it that older workers who delay retirement block younger workers from moving up the career ladder, causing those 20-, 30- or even 40-somethings serious damage to their career earnings.

There is some truth to that, glimpsed in sheer numbers: According to Gallup, the average age of retirement in the U.S. has risen from 57 years old in 1993 to 61 years old today.

In 1995, 49% of Americans figured they would retire before age 65. Only 26% of U.S. workers believe that now, Gallup says.

Age doesn't tell the whole story, though. A study by Gary Burtless, an analyst at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, does acknowledge that the share of the U.S. workforce 60 years old or older is "increasing" -- but only highly productive workers are remaining in the workforce, making for "little evidence the aging workforce has hurt productivity."

From the study:

There's evidence that more productive workers stay in the workforce longer than less productive ones. Using a standard measure of worker productivity -- hourly wages -- workers between 60 and 74 are more productive than average workers who are younger.

Writing on his blog, Burtless says that the gap in educational status may be a better way to compare the size of paychecks between 60-year-olds and 40-year-olds:

Compared with earlier generations of aged Americans and compared with contemporary prime-age workers, today's elderly are unusually well educated. Their high relative earnings and later retirement are partly explained by this fact. ... I consider whether an aging workforce has dragged down average worker productivity over the past quarter century. At least so far, the answer is an emphatic "No." Improved education among the population past 60 and delays in retirement among better educated Americans have tended to boost the earnings of older workers compared with younger ones.

In 1988, it was younger careerists who held the edge in educational status, and by a significant margin. Now those are the workers using their smarts and savvy to remain valuable to their companies, hanging onto jobs -- and fatter paychecks - longer than ever. That leaves some of the new crop of younger workers wondering not if they will have to delay their retirements, but, rather, for how long,

Find the entire study here.