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Registered Nurses Are Delaying Retirement; Contributing To Larger Workforce


Bethesda, MDThe 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. The study 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. 

Registered Nurses Are Delaying Retirement, A Shift That Has Contributed To Recent Growth In the Nurse Workforce
By David I. Auerbach, Peter I. Buerhaus, and Douglas O. Staiger
Auerbach is affiliated with the RAND Corp. in Boston; Buerhaus with Vanderbilt University
in Nashville; and Staiger with Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
This study, which was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, will also appear in the August issue of Health Affairs.

Information about the RNs' ages, employment status, and hours worked, and the age and size of the US 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."

About Health Affairs

Health Affairs is the leading journal at the intersection of health, health care, and policy. Published by Project HOPE, the peer-reviewed journal appears each month in print, with additional Web First papers published periodically at The full text of each Health Affairs Web First paper is available free of charge to all website visitors for a one-week period following posting, after which it switches to pay-per-view for nonsubscribers. Web First papers are supported in part by a grant from The Commonwealth Fund. You can also find the journal on Facebook and Twitter. Read daily perspectives on Health Affairs Blog. Download our podcasts, including monthly Narrative Matters essays, on iTunes. Tap into Health Affairs content with the new iPad app.