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What Impact Does an Aging Workforce Have on Worker Compensation?

Many people in their late 50s and 60s have chosen to remain in the workforce longer than previous generations. The American Association of Retired People (AARP) found in a 2003 survey that “80% of boomers are planning to work after retirement age.” For some, economic conditions such as downturns in the stock market and lower home prices may be a consideration. Others simply wish to continue their careers for personal reasons. As this demographic of older workers increases, many wonder about the impact on workers compensation claims and the related costs.

What does the research say?

Interestingly, research indicates some surprising and reassuring facts. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) published a study in 2011 that found that older employees in the workplace have significantly less impact on workers compensation claims than previously thought. Study results indicate that the distribution of diagnoses is very similar between older and younger workers. Little difference due to age was found “in the share of permanent partial claims across a range of leading diagnoses.” Duration, treatments per claim, benefits paid per day, and costs per treatment were actually found to be higher in the younger workers (under age 35).

Researcher Ray Fair found in his study, “Estimated Age Effects in Athletic Events and Chess” (Experimental Aging Research, 33:37-57, 2007) that while physical and mental performance does decline with age, the rate of deterioration is much less dramatic than one might expect. Fair’s study indicated that age-related deterioration in both physical and mental areas is small and gradual until age 80.

So what problems are of concern for older workers who file a claim?

The research is encouraging, but older workers do have some challenges when it comes to workers compensation claims:

  • Longer periods of disability following a work related injury than their younger counterparts
  • Health issues unrelated to their injury that complicate their workers comp claims
  • Slip and fall injuries are more common, with serious and long-term complications for older workers
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