DR. PANGLOSS READS GOVERNMENT STATISTICS
In the opinion section of the Sunday New York Times, Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economics professor, tells us that Americans in the future probably won't retire from the work force, well, ever -- but heck, that's a good thing! One reason? All that plucky geriatic entrepreneurialism:
America desperately needs more entrepreneurship, and by at least one measure, the elderly are often the most entrepreneurial Americans. Self-employment rises significantly with age. West Palm Beach, a retiree haven, has the highest self-employment rate of any metropolitan area in the nation; other areas around the country that attract older Americans boast similar self-employment patterns. Self-employment is particularly natural for older Americans, because it provides so much more control over working hours and conditions. While self-employment is surely an imperfect measure of entrepreneurship, it correlates with other indices of entrepreneurship. I'm not suggesting that West Palm Beach is likely to become the next Silicon Valley, but we shouldn't pooh-pooh the independent economic activity of the elderly, either.
You know what, Professor Glaeser? There's another possible explanation for high levels of self-employment in areas where there are a lot of old people: the self-employed are doctors! Doctors flock to areas where a lot of old people live -- and a lot of them are their own bosses. That doesn't make them entrepreneurs, for crissake. And if it is the elderly who are also swelling the self-employed ranks, who are they? The next Steve Jobs? Or people selling antique postcards on eBay or crafts on Etsy?
Plus, Professor Glaeser says, we like the idea of working till we drop -- it's in our nature!
The United States has always had a Calvinist backbone. We've long been comfortable with shorter vacations and longer workweeks. In this light, the mid-20th century retirement boom seems like something of an aberration. In a sense, the current rise in the working elderly is a reversion to form, and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
Yeah, we choose to work nights and weekends and to not use all the vacation we have -- because American workers have complete autonomy over these things! It's not as if our employers pressure or compel us to work the hours we do -- we just decide to do it on our own! It's just the kooky, plucky way we are!