Registered Nurses Are Delaying Retirement, a Shift That Has Contributed to Recent Growth in the Nurse Workforce

Published in: Health Affairs, v. 33, no. 8, Aug. 2014, p. 1474-1480

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2014

by David I. Auerbach, Peter Buerhaus, Douglas Staiger

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Research Questions

  1. When are baby-boomer registered nurses (RNs) retiring?
  2. What are the implications for the RN workforce in the future?

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. Much of the difference is the result of a surge in new nursing graduates. However, the size of the RN workforce is particularly sensitive to changes in retirement age, given the large number of baby-boomer RNs now in the workforce. We found that in the period 1969–90, for a given number of RNs working at age fifty, 47 percent were still working at age sixty-two and 9 percent were working at age 69. In contrast, in the period 1991–2012 the proportions were 74 percent at age 62 and 24 percent at age 69. This trend, which largely predates the recent recession, extended nursing careers by 2.5 years after age fifty and increased the 2012 RN workforce by 136,000 people. Because many RNs tend to shift out of hospital settings as they age, employers seeking RNs for nonhospital roles may welcome (and seek to capitalize on) the growing numbers of experienced RNs potentially able to fill these positions.

Key Findings

  • RNs are extending their careers, working about 14 more years beyond age 50, compared with 11.5 years prior to 1990.
  • Older RNs are more likely to work outside the hospital setting.
  • These older RNs may be in demand to meet ACA-induced changes in care delivery that require care coordination, management, and ambulatory care.

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