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On-Demand Video: The Aging Workforce: Challenges and Benefits for the Public’s Health
Event held February 11, 2016
For immediate release

In the latest in a series of live webcasts by The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a panel of academics, researchers and policy experts agreed that a growing, graying U.S. population will require major systemic readjustments – in workforce practices, in personal behaviors and social systems, and in programs such as Medicare and Social Security. The panel was conducted on February 11, 2016.

Below are highlights of the conversation for media use.

This Forum was presented in collaboration with The Huffington Post.

Debra Whitman, Chief Public Policy Officer, AARP

Francine Grodstein, Professor of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Lisa Berkman, Professor of Public Policy and of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Christina Matz-Costa, Senior Research Associate at the Center on Aging & Work, Boston College

Chris Arnold, Correspondent, National Public Radio

  • The United States is in an unprecedented demographic transition in which we will soon have more people over age 60 than under age 5. Longer life spans and lower fertility rates are transforming the workforce, the workplace and family dynamics, while challenging current health care and social welfare systems as well as individuals trying to navigate them.
  • Older people want to remain engaged in the workforce, perhaps in new ways that include volunteering, part-time and at-home options, and in their communities, not just to stay busy, but to make a real contribution. That requires maintaining their health and cognitive abilities, which means paying greater attention to diet, exercise and weight control earlier in life.
  • Half the population has inadequate savings for a comfortable retirement. Pensions are vanishing and Social Security won’t provide enough. Making automatic paycheck savings the default option has had success among employers in Britain, but seniors also need help in managing their finances and understanding loans and investment fees after retirement.
  • Older people seek workplace flexibility that few businesses now provide as standard policy rather than as individual arrangements. State and local policy-makers could promote healthy diets and exercise with regulations, education campaigns and other ways like those that brought down smoking rates.
  • Age discrimination in employment, especially in lower-income jobs, is a real problem and hard to fight as it is based on stereotypes. Studies show that age diversity is good for any company’s bottom line.
To watch the full one-hour Forum, visit

Contact: Christina Roache,  tel. 617-432-7094
Click the links below to watch clips from the event.
Lump of labor myth: Highlight from Aging Workforce
Lump of labor myth
Berkman: “So overall, by far the most important thing is that societies are undergoing a demographic transition that the world has never seen….by aging societies we mean societies in which there are more people over 60 than there are under 5… [One] huge myth [is] called lump of labor, with the idea that there’s a fixed number of jobs, and if people stay in the labor force too long, they’re going to take it away from other people…In fact people in the workforce create jobs for other people. So we all flourish in a society where everybody works.”
Older workers can contribute: Highlight from Aging Workforce
Older workers can contribute
Whitman: “Older workers, the baby boomers, are some of the most educated and experienced workers we’ve ever had…They’re mostly doing it [continuing to work] because they need to…Once they’re out [of a job], it’s even harder to get a new job.”
Productive aging: Highlight from Aging Workforce
Productive aging
Matz-Costa: “Engagement could include not only paid employment and self employment but also volunteer opportunities…also it’s a social justice issue. To what extent should all older adults…be able to be involved and participate in all levels of the economy?”
Aging and health: Highlight from Aging Workforce

Aging and health
Grodstein: “Our ability to maintain an active engaged life and work as we get older is quite dependent on our memory…having a healthy diet in mid-life, in older life…it’s never too early to start, and it’s never too late to start…even something as basic as a brisk walk…people who can maintain a healthy weight and not become obese are actually 80% more likely to be healthy as they get older.”

Automatic savings plans: Highlight from Aging Workforce
Automatic savings plans
Arnold: “…the vast majority of Americans are not ready for retirement…what they’re doing in the UK is they’re saying, look, every employer has to automatically enroll you…91% of people stick with it.”
Workplace flexibility: Highlight from Aging Workforce
Workplace flexibility
Berkman: “Policies that enable people throughout the life course to work part time, to have schedule control, to have leave…will be a cornerstone of any sorts of future policies.” Matz-Costa (33:18): “One study by Merrill Lynch found that only 6% [of baby boomers] wanted to actually work full time."
Role of government: Highlight from Aging Workforce
Role of government
Grodstein: “Local, state policy has made a huge difference in bringing down cigarette smoking…and we really need to do similar things for diet, for exercise…getting people to incorporate healthy activities into their daily life certainly is a very good way of trying to improve our health.”
Engagement and health: Highlight from Aging Workforce

Engagement and health
Whitman: “I think being engaged as you age, whether it’s for pay or not, can have all kinds of health benefits…this movement [the WHO age-friendly city program] is really going to transform our country and also help make it an easier place to grow old, not just an isolated place.”

Age Discrimination: Highlight from Aging Workforce
Age discrimination
Berkman: “…the stereotypes that flow [about] older workers are often really false…usually diversity is good for the bottom line… [Whitman]: if we don’t [change], I think the companies will fall behind… [Berkman:] Disparities are an issue that occurs over the life course…the ultimate solution to reductions in inequality and disparities require us to think completely broadly across the life course, not at the end of a work history.”
Expert recommendations
Each expert offered a single policy recommendation at the end of the show.
Through in-person events paired with state-of-the-art interactive webcasting, The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health convenes the best-informed and most influential scientists, policymakers, and practitioners to address worldwide health problems that require immediate decisions and practical solutions.


Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people's lives-not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at the Harvard Chan School teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America's oldest professional training program in public health.
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