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The Worst Age Discrimination Is Social Security’s Gray Wall

Social Security’s fixed retirement ages make employment unstable well before retirement, needlessly causing serious harm. This gray wall can be eliminated by simply extending Social Security’s current age adjustments to all younger and older ages.

James Anthony
April 30, 2021

In 1900, the proportion of USA men age 65-74 who worked was 77% [1]. In 2019, this proportion was 33% [2].

A few people choose to retire earlier nowadays, but the majority of people get pushed out earlier by layoffs, business closings, job dissatisfaction bad enough to quit, or unexpected retirement [3].

With the USA’s Social Security, a person can retire “early” at age 62, retire “normally” at age 66-67 [4], or “delay” retirement up to age 70. Retiring at ages outside this range is disincentivized because disbursements outside these this range aren’t prorated.

This narrow age range and this labelling generate harmful expectations in employers, which substantially change people’s prospects of keeping their jobs and of finding new jobs, not just near the Social Security nominal retirement ages but often much sooner.

People talk about the glass ceiling. The retirement ages in today’s Social Security are the gray wall.

Running up against the gray wall—getting pushed out of work early—has tragic consequences. Verbal memory declines 38% faster [5]. Median household income at age 65 declines 14% [6]. Risk of dying younger—within 8 years—increases 10% [7].

This discrimination isn’t a natural result of aging, it’s an unintended consequence of a government program.

One natural approach to aging would be if individuals and employers would make contributions to an individual’s lifetime annuity [8]. Each individual would retire at the age he chooses and would receive prorated disbursements.

This natural pattern of contributions and prorated disbursements is also provided by Social Security. The one departure from this pattern is that individuals are only allowed to receive the full amounts of prorated disbursements if they retire within a narrow range of retirement ages.

Government people would realize substantial benefits by simply offering people more flexibility.

People who vote for these government people will like having more choices.

Employers, once they no longer expect people to retire at a given age, will see older employees not as a diminishing return from hiring effort, training cost, and management effort but instead as a readily-available, substantial resource.

Many people will delay retirement. They’ll continue working, so they’ll add value. They’ll continue in relatively-skilled positions, so they’ll add even more value. The value they add will produce more earnings and more savings. They’ll stay healthier and they’ll live longer.

Customers will benefit from this extra added value, which will provide customers more products and better products. And like with all products, these products will provide nearly every customer even more value than that of the money the customer voluntarily exchanges for the products [9].

Government people will benefit several ways. Social Security will finally first do no harm, and, as noted, people will appreciate having freer choices, so in both ways government people will earn goodwill. Also, people approaching retirement will earn more and pay more taxes, so all government programs will be more solvent.

Fully-flexible Social Security retirement ages will be a win for people approaching requirement, for employers, for customers, and for government people. For all, this will be win-win.

The work required to carry out this change is a perfect fit with the current government administrators’ longstanding core competencies. Social Security disbursements already are adjusted actuarially [10]. The adjustments currently made as a person’s retirement age varies between 62 and 70 can simply be extended down to all younger ages and extended up to all older ages. There! Fixed it for you.

The Social Security gray wall needlessly inflicts substantial harm. It’s a loss for people approaching retirement, for employers, for customers, and for government people. For all, the gray wall is lose-lose, with no silver lining.

Ms. Pelosi, tear down this wall!


  1. Margo, Robert A. “The Labor Force Participation of Older Americans in 1900: Further Results.” NBER Working Paper Series, no. 27, July 1991, p. 21.
  2. “Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate by Age, Sex, Race, and Ethnicity.” Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 Sep. 2020, www.bls.gov/emp/tables/civilian-labor-force-participation-rate.htm. Accessed 30 Apr. 2021.
  3. Johnson, Richard W., and Peter Gosselin. “How Secure Is Employment at Older Ages?” Urban Institute, Dec. 2018, www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/99570/how_secure_is_employment_at_older_ages_2.pdf, p. 8. Accessed 30 Apr. 2021.
  4. “Retirement Benefits.” Social Security Administration, www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/agereduction.html. Accessed 30 Apr. 2021.
  5. Xue, Baowen, et al. “Effect of Retirement on Cognitive Function: The Whitehall II Cohort Study.” European Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 33, no. 10, Oct. 2018, pp. 989-1001.
  6. Johnson, Richard W., and Peter Gosselin. “How Secure Is Employment at Older Ages?” Urban Institute, Dec. 2018, www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/99570/how_secure_is_employment_at_older_ages_2.pdf, p. 16. Accessed 30 Apr. 2021.
  7. Wu, Chenkai, et al. “Association of Retirement Age with Mortality: A Population-Based Longitudinal Study Among Older Adults in the USA.” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, vol. 70, no. 9, Sep. 2016, pp. 917-23.
  8. Kurt, Daniel. “What Is an Annuity?” Investopedia, 19 Mar. 2021, www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/12/what-is-an-annuity.asp. Accessed 30 Apr. 2021.
  9. “Value.” Mises Wiki, 1 Feb. 2013, wiki.mises.org/wiki/Value. Accessed 30 Apr. 2021.
  10. Bauer, Elizabeth. “Are Social Security’s Early and Late Retirement Factors Fair?” Forbes, 25 Jun. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2019/06/25/are-social-securitys-early-and-late-retirement-factors-fair/?sh=766490762ad2. Accessed 30 Apr. 2021.

James Anthony is the author of The Constitution Needs a Good Party and rConstitution Papers. He is a chemical engineer with a master’s in mechanical engineering.


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