Which Industries Have the Oldest Workers?

Published on May 10, 2011

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Emsi Burning Glass

image of Lightcast gradiant

Prompted by Paul Tosto’s MinnEcon blog, we looked at all 20 broad-level industry groups to see which have the highest share of workers 55 years and older. The answer? Educational services, public administration, real estate, and utilities.

In those four industries, at least 23% of workers in the US are 55-plus — in other words, nearing retirement age. Education is tops with 26%, while accommodation & food services is lowest with 10%.

When you add the 45-54 age group to the 55-and-above category, utilities rises to the top, at 57%, followed by public admin (53%), education (52%), and manufacturing (51%). The chart below gives a breakdown of the top 10, and we’ve included data for all 20 industries below.

Click on chart for larger image.

The source for this data is the US Census Bureau’s LEHD program and its Quarterly Workforce Indicators, which blend demographic information with industry statistics. [1. Data for three states — Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire — and the District of Columbia were not available at the time of the analysis through the LEHD program.] These figures are current as of the first quarter 2010.

Here are a few other takeaways from the tables below:

  • As we mentioned earlier, utilities has the biggest percentage of 45-plus workers — and it also has the largest distribution of 45-54 year old workers (34%). We did a state-by-state breakdown of the age of utility workers last year.

  • The utilities’ workforce might be aging, but there’s a definite drop-off once workers reach 65. Among the 65-and-older category, utilities has the smallest share, at 2%, among all industries. This suggests the physical rigors of the industry are too much once workers reach a certain age.

  • The crush of baby boomer retirements in health care — given the eventual trend away from people hanging on in the workforce — looks to be a concern … eventually. This Census data shows 41% of health care and social assistance workers are between 45-64.

IndustryDistribution of Workers 45-54Distribution of Workers 55-64Distribution of Workers 65 & aboveUtilities34%21%2%Public Administration29%19%5%Educational Services26%21%5%Manufacturing30%18%3%Transportation and Warehousing28%17%4%Mining27%17%3%Real Estate and Rental and Leasing24%16%7%Wholesale Trade27%16%4%Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting23%14%8%Other Services (except Public Administration)23%16%6%Health Care and Social Assistance25%16%4%Management of Companies and Enterprises26%15%3%Construction26%13%4%Finance and Insurance24%14%3%Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services23%14%4%Information23%13%3%Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services21%13%5%Retail Trade19%12%5%Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation19%12%5%Accommodation and Food Services14%7%3%

Here is the above data aggregated into two overarching categories (55+ and 45+).

IndustryDistribution of Workers 55+Distribution of Workers 45+Utilities23%57%Public Administration24%53%Educational Services26%52%Manufacturing21%51%Transportation and Warehousing21%49%Mining20%47%Real Estate and Rental and Leasing23%47%Wholesale Trade20%47%Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting22%45%Other Services (ex. Public Admin.)22%45%Health Care and Social Assistance20%45%Management of Companies and Enterprises18%44%Construction17%43%Finance and Insurance17%41%Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services18%41%Information16%39%Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services18%39%Retail Trade17%36%Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation17%36%Accommodation and Food Services10%24%