College Guide


June 17, 2013 1:48 PM The Professors Aren’t Retiring

By Daniel Luzer


One of the lines frequently used, at least in past years, to reassure those contemplating an academic profession, is that one should not worry too much about the lack of open tenure-track professor jobs . Many professors are old; eventually they’ve got to retire.

Eventually, yes, but not anytime soon. According to a piece at Inside Higher Ed based on a recent Fidelity Investments study of college faculty:

Some 74 percent of professors aged 49-67 plan to delay retirement past age 65 or never retire at all…. While 69 percent of those surveyed cited financial concerns, an even higher percentage of professors said love of their careers factored into their decision.

It appears it’s pretty rare for college professors to retire at normal retirement age.

Paul Yakoboski, senior economist with the TIAA-CREF Institute, also said the data align with those he’s published previously. Based on a 2011 TIAA-CREF study, just 15 percent of senior faculty expected to retire by normal retirement age (when they were eligible for full Social Security benefits, or 65 for most people). One-quarter of respondents wanted to retire by then, but expected to work longer. A much larger proportion - 60 percent - both expected and wanted to work past retirement age.

It’s entirely appropriate for professors to make such decisions. If they love their jobs and they want to keep drawing those relatively generous salaries, good for them. But the situation isn’t so great for newly minted PhDs, who will now toil even longer as adjuncts. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • paul on June 18, 2013 8:47 AM:

    This goes back to the 80s or so, when courts declared that mandatory retirement for the professoriat was unlawful.

    A big part of the problem is that, as things are currently structured, academic retirement is an all-or-nothing thing. Emeritus professors get an office, maybe, but minimal support otherwise, making serious academic work difficult at best. (In college, I spent a summer working for an emeritus professor who was essentially living month to month, scraping together a tiny grant here, a piddling consulting gig there.) Some kind of part-time status and pay might make getting out of the way much more attractive.

    This is also an area where relatively small changes in life expectancy can make huge differences for the prospects of the younger generation