Contract Work at Older Ages
Katherine Abraham, Brad Hershbein, Susan Houseman

The share of workers who are self-employed rises markedly with age. Given policy interest in increasing employment among older Americans, it is important to understand the role that selfemployment arrangements may play in facilitating work among seniors. Data from a survey module fielded on an ongoing Gallup telephone survey show that, especially after accounting for individuals who are miscoded as employees, self-employment is even more prevalent at older ages than suggested by existing data. Many of the older self-employed work few hours and their work activity may not be fully captured by standard household survey questions. Work as an independent contractor is the most common type of self-employment. Roughly one-quarter of independent contractors age 50 and older work for a former employer. Among the older population, self-employment generally—and work as an independent contractor specifically—is substantially more common among highly educated individuals. Most of those past age 65 who are working as independent contractors say that earning money is not their primary motivation.

The research reported herein was performed pursuant to grant RDR18000003 from the US Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the Federal Government, or NBER. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. We thank Joe Daly, Jeff Jones, Stephanie Marken, and Jonathan Rothwell at Gallup for assistance with implementing the survey module on which many of the results we report are based and with understanding details of the underlying Education Consumer Pulse Survey. We also thank Lillian Petrovic for outstanding research assistance. Besides the Social Security Administration, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, and the Sloan Foundation provided financial support for this project.