They joke that retirement is boring, but some acknowledge a deeper fear of becoming irrelevant if
they quit
Callum Borchers
The first thing to know about people who shun retirement to work past age 80 is that they are
probably busier, and possibly cooler, than you.
One said an interview would have to wait because he was traveling to France for the 24 Hours of Le
Mans. Another said he would be free after hitting a research deadline and
organizing his Harvard Business School class’s 65th reunion. A third, available on shorter notice,
emailed a physical description before meeting: “In the spirit of YOLO, I have blue hair and
Growing numbers of 80-somethings are deciding that if days are finite, they are better spent on the
job than in retirement.
Harrison Ford, 80, is releasing his latest “Indiana Jones” movie, Jane Goodall, 89, is still
protecting chimps, Smokey Robinson, 83, is still touring, and 80-year-old Joe Biden is still
governing (and seeking re-election), so why not keep going too?
Biden’s decision to seek a second term in the White House, which would keep him in office until age
86, has renewed a conversation about how effectively people can work in their ninth decade.
Roughly 650,000 Americans over 80 were working last year, according to the Census Bureau, about 18%
more than a decade earlier. Some people have been pressed back into duty by inflation and
stock-market volatility, while the fading pandemic made others who took a break feel more
comfortable clocking in again. Many cite a simpler reason to keep working—they just want to.
Nearly half log full-time hours. Though some run a cash register or pump gas to stave off boredom,
80-somethings are more common in professional, managerial and financial roles than in service jobs,
federal data show.
Los Angeles divorce attorney Daniel Jaffe, who continues to practice full time at 85, still
relishes the challenge of his job and loves traveling to conferences. PHOTO: MALKA NAZAR
These workers joke about getting bored on the golf course or being pushed out of the house
by a spouse who won’t tolerate idleness. Beneath the wisecracks is a sense of purpose that
refuses to fade. They just can’t quit their careers.

Daniel Jaffe, founding partner of Jaffe Family Law Group in Los Angeles, says he loves traveling to
conferences, schmoozing in bars and collecting accolades and press clippings, many of which he
displays in his office. If he stopped practicing full time, he worries that the invitations and
attention would vanish fast.
“It really is out of sight, out of mind,” the 85-year-old says of his field.
Jaffe’s specialty is divorces of the rich and famous. He still relishes the challenge of the job:
preventing exes from hating each other, or being hated by their children. He has few pastimes, none
of which replace the rush of a big case. Plus many of his contemporaries with whom he might hang
out after hanging it up are dead.
Basically, he says he missed his window to retire, so he keeps working.
More to come
Workers over 80 are a sliver of the overall U.S. labor force and a rarity in the highest echelons
of business.
In the S&P 500, 1.6% of board members are at least 80, up from 1.3% a decade ago, according to
Equilar, which tracks corporate leadership trends. Two chief executives in the index are older than
80, Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, 92, and Teledyne Technologies’ Robert Mehrabian, 81, who
returned as CEO in 2021 when a younger executive retired.
Signs point toward growing ranks, however. Although many companies set mandatory retirement ages
for directors, it is common to grant waivers to those with vital institutional knowledge, an
Equilar spokesman noted.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that workforce participation among people 75 and older will
climb to 11.7% by 2030 from 8.9% in 2020. The participation rate for every
other age group is expected to decline.