As workers age, they may find it increasingly difficult to sustain employment, particularly if
their work is physically demanding. While some workers transition to less onerous roles in the
later stage of their careers, others have few employment alternatives. This analysis explores the
interaction between older adults’ education and transitions from physically demanding jobs.
Using longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study, I track changes in employment
status and work conditions for the original cohort of interviewees until retirement. Descriptive
social sequence analysis reveals that physical demands are most prevalent in the careers of older
men and women without a college education. Transitions to less demanding roles feature most
clearly in the career sequences of the most educated workers. Using regression analysis,
however, I find that workers in physically demanding jobs are no less likely to be employed than
their similarly educated peers in less demanding roles. Further, for workers with similar job
demands, employment probabilities are comparable across education levels. Overall, my findings
suggest that educational attainment can explain differences in the demands older workers face,
but does not affect the probability of continued employment in the pre-retirement years.