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Health Affairs Web First: More US RNs Retire Later, Causing A Larger Workforce

July 16th, 2014

The size of the registered nurse (RN) workforce has surpassed forecasts from a decade ago, growing to 2.7 million in 2012 instead of peaking at 2.2 million as predicted. One less-noticed factor in this “nursing boom” is the decision by a growing number of RNs to delay retirement.

According to a new study being released today as a Web First by Health Affairs, among registered nurses working at the age of fifty from 1991 to 2012, 24 percent continued working as of the age of sixty-nine. This compared to 9 percent of RNs still working at the age of sixty-nine in the period from 1969 to 1990.

Authors David Auerbach, Peter Buerhaus, and Douglas Staiger also found that as RNs tend to shift out of hospital settings as they age, employers may welcome the growing numbers of experienced RNs seeking employment in other settings. Auerbach is affiliated with the RAND Corp. in Boston, Massachusetts; Buerhaus with Vanderbilt University’s Institute of Medicine and Public Health in Nashville, Tennessee; and Staiger with Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Information about the RNs’ ages, employment status, and hours worked, and the age and size of the U.S. population, was obtained from the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey. The authors examined RN workforce data for the period 1969–2012, with respondents’ ages ranging from 23 to 69.

“In 2012 an employed fifty-year-old nurse would be expected to work an average of 14.0 more years, whereas a comparable RN before 1990 would have been expected to work another 11.5 years,” conclude the authors.

“This increase has been partly responsible for the continued growth in the RN workforce…. In addition, it may have contributed to some of the difficulty that the recent surge of new RNs has had in finding the jobs they expected.”

Looking ahead, the authors expect that changes in care delivery brought about by the Affordable Care Act could increase the demand: “Older RNs are far more likely to work outside of the hospital than younger RNs are—and thus the larger number of older RNs seeking nonhospital employment could be a welcome development for nonhospital organizations that are seeking RNs.”

This study, which was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, will also appear in the August issue of Health Affairs.

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3 Responses to “Health Affairs Web First: More US RNs Retire Later, Causing A Larger Workforce”

  1. Sarah Staggs Says:

    A lot of nurses with a BSN degree I have encountered are being bullied by ADN prepared nurses if they have 10 years or more experience and are over 45 much less older. The schools that encourage people to study nursing suggest job security. This is not the case with ADN degree nurses. These RN’s are forced to work in nursing home type jobs to gain experience.

    Once they gain a job in a hospital the pack mentality begins to push out older workers. As if older workers do not need their job. The hospitals are busy crunching numbers providing higher than normal patient to RN ratio. Experienced RN’s will object and document accordingly to provide safe patient centered care. Younger less experienced nurses appear to be more concerned with whatever they are told to do by administration. Organized healthcare want the minimum experience nurse to pay them less.

    I have witnessed bullying of experienced nurses older to provide job security to the younger nurse. The Tech. Schools pump out ADN prepared nurses in a market that does not have openings. Many second degree students feel entitled to be hired due to second degree. Additional training is wonderful but does not measure against the experienced nurse. The advocate not as pressed by a student loan payment.

    I see an alarming trend blame elderly people in this culture. Ageism is tolerated. Age discrimination is hard to prove. We as a culture remember discrimination is fear based.

    Thank you,

  2. Jan Polizzi Says:

    This does not address the issue that nurses are not retiring because of the flat economy. they can’t afford to retire. this also places the nurses at risk for injury due to advanced age of the workforce, especially back injuries.

  3. Ann Says:

    I feel part of the reason for this delay in retirement is the new “Full retirement” age set by social security ! Many of my friends who are nurses would love to be able to retire at 64 as in years past now that it has been upped to 66 or higher depending upon what year your were born. Who knows how many will be able to !!!!! I have run the figures in one of my retirement funds web sites and the difference there is not that great, however the social security portion can change can be huge depending upon age impute !!! I am sure health care costs are another huge factor !!!!! It appears that the new program the government has in place is very pricey !!!! if not in monthly costs the co-pays and out of pocket look to be large !!!!! And least we not forget one still has to apply for Medicare three months prior to the old retirement age of 64 !!! Double my health insurance payments please!!

    Nursing is my second career. I was a computer operator for 16 years prior to nursing. While this high tech job has enhanced my abilities to move forward in the advent of computer charting I find it is getting harder and harder to actually spend any time at the bedside!!! All the new regulations, initiatives, prospective payments, basing things on “costumer service” for payments is a definite challenge for all nurses !!!!!

    I see no easy solution to the health care situation as it stands, all I know it is harder each year to work as a nurse !!!!!

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