After reading a little bit about bridge jobs today I became more interested in this new term. What exactly is a bridge job, who are the people working at bridge jobs, and is this actually the more common form of retirement?

I found an excellent paper titled, “Retirement patterns from career employment” by Cahill, Giandrea, and Quinn, which answered all these questions for me. First of all, they define a bridge job as “intermediate labor force activity.” In essence it is the jobs that fill the gap between an individual’s career and their complete withdrawal from the workforce. This job is “bridging” the gap and is thus called a bridge job. It is interesting to me how people view retirement as a single event, a monumental exit from the labor-force, and yet the authors discover that nowadays this is the exception and not the rule.

The paper goes into detail about the people taking bridge jobs. Mostly, they find, a younger worker who leave their job (age 50-62) are more likely to take a bridge job than those older workers (age 63+). Most people who left their jobs in very good or excellent health are more likely to take a bridge job. Men and women who had no health insurance from their career job are more likely to take a bridge job when they left. With regard to pension plans, those with no pension or a defined-contribution pension (401k for example) are more likely to take a bridge job than those with defined-benefit pensions. Probably the most shocking finding was that bridge jobs are more likely at the two extremes of the wage distribution. People of low wage often took bridge jobs out of financial need and those of high wage who often could afford to retire, chose a bridge job for life enjoyment.

The most important findings of this paper are the implications that a sudden exit from the labor-force is no longer the norm. More and more people are taking on bridge jobs and adding their skills to the labor force, whether full time or part time, making large contributions to society. As we look into the future and see things beginning to change, such as the reduction in defined-benefit pensions, increased good health, and jobs that are enhancing the quality of life of older Americans, bridge job behavior will become more and more common and, it seems, this will benefit everyone.