Study: More nurses delaying retirement and contributing to a larger workforce

AHA News

A growing number of registered nurses (RN) are delaying retirement, according to a study published online July 17 by Health Affairs.

“In 2012 an employed 50-year-old RN would be likely to work an average of 14 more years, whereas a comparable RN before 1990 would have been likely to work another 11.5 years,” the study found.

“This increase has been partly responsible for a continued growth in the RN workforce, particularly since it occurred at the same time as the number of baby-boomer RNs was expanding rapidly. The increase has also boosted RN employment in nonhospital settings, where older RNs tend to predominate.”

The researchers studied RNs between 1991 and 2012 and found three out of four nurses were working at age 62, and nearly 25% of RN’s were still clocking in at 69. In the previous two decades, just fewer than 50% of nurses were working at 62, and only 9% were working at 69, according to the study.

The trend has helped push the current workforce to 2.7 million, which is well beyond the previously projected peak of 2.2 million. But whether the new numbers will negate fears of nurse shortages is unclear, according to the study’s authors. And how workforce growth plays against the increased demand for nurses in light of the higher numbers of insured, projected physician shortages, and increased need for providers under the Affordable Care Act remains to be seen, they wrote.

Other reasons for growth. While delayed retirement accounts for about a quarter of the unexpected surge in the RN workforce, much of the rest of the growth comes from a jump in the number of nurses graduating from nursing programs, said the study. Between 2002 and 2012, the annual number of graduates more than doubled, rising from roughly 74,000 to 181,000. As a result, there are now 750,000 RNs younger than 35 years in the nurse workforce compared with 500,000 a decade ago.

The study said a third reason for the growth is the slow economic rebound after the recession from 2007 to 2009, which has kept some nurses working who might have withdrawn in a more robust economy. In a previous analysis, the researchers found that “for each percentage- point increase in the national unemployment rate, the RN workforce was roughly 1% (or around 25,000 RNs) larger than it had been.”

The study’s authors said the “effects of the most recent recession will likely continue to recede, and the baby boomers will eventually retire. These changes may lead to a return of RN shortages in some areas of the country in the near term.” But they add that the “continued growth in the number of new RNs would help offset these forces.”

For more on the study, click on:

Topic: Advocacy and Public Policy

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