Young people are the supposed vanguards of a new economic age. Unlike their parents, young people are said to value happiness over money. They prefer gigs over jobs. They prefer flexibility and meaning rather than status and hours at work. Rather than attach themselves to a single company, they are ushering in an economy of coffee-shop “creatives,” hot-desking between WeWork-style shared work spaces in pursuit of their individualistic dreams.
But there is another generation of U.S. workers with those non-monetary values and gig-style jobs. It’s not America’s youngest workers, but rather America’s oldest.
There is little question that an aging workforce—and an aging country—is one of the most important features of the modern economy. By 2024, one quarter of the workforce will be 55 and over—more than twice what the share was in 1994. And as they extend their working years, sometimes by choice and sometimes by necessity, it’s older Americans who are quietly adopting Millennial stereotypes, far more than actual Millennials are.
First, consider the gig economy, which is often framed as a Millennial counter-revolution to the failures of the traditional economy. In fact, the gig economy is full of older workers. People over the age of 65 are four times more likely to be self-employed than those under 34, and are more likely to work part-time jobs, too, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
One of the most important trends in the workforce in the last decade has been the rise of “alternative work arrangements,” like freelancing or part-time work. These jobs, which often lack benefits like health care, have grown significantly in the last decade, long before Uber, Airbnb, and Lyft took off. Workers between 55 and 75 years old are 70 percent more likely to be in such alternative arrangements than 25-54 year-olds, according to the economist Jed Kolko. According to internal Uber data, half of its drivers are over 40.
Read more at The Atlantic.