A global recession has helped to accelerate the trend, by putting pressure on many people over age 55 to keep working if they can. But the real impetus behind an aging workforce is demographic. People are living longer. Older people are also becoming a larger share of the population in many nations, simply because of declining birthrates and shrinking ranks of young people.
All this is amplified by the arrival of the massive boomer generation on the threshold of retirement. The baby boom after World War II didn't just happen in the United States but also in places like Europe and Australia as well. The first boomers are hitting 65 this month.
Add these forces together, and the result is a "global aging" trend that's already a major influence on the world economy – one that promises to transform the meaning of "golden years." "It's not really the end of retirement. It's the reinvention of retirement," says William Novelli, a former chief executive of the AARP now at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. "Work is an increasing part of the so-called retirement years."
In the old days, workers in developed nations often reached a clean-break moment when careers came to end. An office party. The infamous gold watch. Perhaps a move to a sun-dappled place like Florida.
People literally retired, exiting the labor force for good. That model hasn't disappeared completely, by any means. But life after age 60 is undergoing significant change. It can still be a time for golf and swimming pools, but for millions of people it's also a time for clinging to a full-time job, reentering the workforce as a part-timer, or even starting a new business.