Bridge employment in the United States

Mo Wang, Lee Thomas Penn, Agustina Bertone, Slaviana Stefanova

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Increasingly, researchers have found it beneficial to conceptualize retirement as not a one-time event, but a dynamic process that includes elements of retirement planning, retirement decision-making (e.g., early retirement, full retirement, or bridge employment), and post-retirement transition and adjustment (Wang et al. 2011). Research also shows that each retirement situation is unique to the individual (Wang and Shultz 2010; Wang 2007). Indeed, what it means to ‘retire’ can be interpreted in many ways, such as (1) lack of paid employment, (2) receipt of pension and/or retirement benefits, (3) exit from one’s main employer, (4) reduced work hours, (5) hours worked or earnings received from work below some arbitrary cutoff, (6) changing employers late in one’s career, (7) selfassessment of being retired, and (8) some combination of the previous definitions (Denton and Spencer 2009). For many individuals retirement can mean complete withdrawal from work, re-entering the workforce in another capacity, or even continuing to work past the age of qualification for social security benefits and pensions. The choice to work during retirement is gaining popularity with retirees in the United States (Cahill et al. 2013). In fact, working in retirement has become more common for Americans than complete work withdrawal (Cahill et al. 2006). In the literature, working in retirement is known as bridge employment, which is defined as the labor-force participation patterns observed among older workers as they leave their career jobs and move toward complete labor-force withdrawal (i.e., full retirement; Shultz 2003). The capacity in which the retiree works can vary in the amount of hours worked, the amount of responsibility, and familiarity of work tasks (Wang and Shultz 2010). One form of bridge employment that has gained attention is phased retirement (Drago et al. 2009). In phased retirement, an individual continues to work in the same career and work setting, yet works fewer and more flexible hours (Wang et al. 2013). This arrangement allows the individual to maintain a sense of continuity in retirement life (Zhan et al. 2009). It also is an appealing arrangement for employers because they are able to preserve their skilled workers and needed talent (Wang and Shultz 2010). Another form of bridge employment that researchers are beginning to study closely is encore retirement. Retirees engaging in encore careers use their accumulated knowledge and skills to worktoward meaningful community improvement (Simpson et al. 2012). Here, the individual often chooses to devote some or all of their time in retirement toward a greater good and not for pay. An example would be a volunteer social worker (Simpson et al. 2012). Typically, researchers distinguish between all forms of bridge employment using two criteria: namely, by career and organization. In career bridge employment, an individual takes on a job in the same field or industry as the preretirement job (Davis 2003; von Bonsdorff et al. 2009; Wang et al. 2008). For example, a lawyer may choose to retire and continue to work as a lawyer in some capacity, or conversely the lawyer may choose to work in a new career, such as in business as a manager. Another category of bridge employment is organizational bridge employment, which is whether an individual takes on a bridge job in the same company or in a different company (Jones and McIntosh 2010; Zhan et al. 2013). Thus, bridge employment can be categorized into five distinct types in the current literature: career bridge employment in the same organization, career bridge employment in a different organization, non-career bridge employment in the same organization, and non-career bridge employment in a different organization, as well as full retirement (i.e., complete labor-force withdrawal). The goal of this chapter is to present a thorough analysis of bridge employment in the United States. First, we will examine the prevalence and current trends of bridge employment in the United States. We will then explore the psychological and contextual antecedents of bridge employment. Following that, we will summarize the potential outcomes of bridge employment. Finally, we will conclude the chapter with a discussion of future directions for research in U.S. bridge employment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBridge Employment
Subtitle of host publicationA Research Handbook
EditorsCarlos- María Alcover, Gabriela Topa, Emma Parry, Franco Fraccaroli, Marco Depolo
Place of PublicationAbingdon UK
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9780203383100
ISBN (Print)9780415829090
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

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