Many universities used to require faculty to retire by age 70.They wanted to encourage fresh thinking and hire younger (cheaper) professors. Opponents of mandatory retirement maintained that the most senior faculty possess the most experience and would be a loss if they were forced to retire while still productive.
Federal legislation ended the practice of mandatory retirement for university faculty in 1994. Some predicted that the change would result in a grayer, older faculty with fewer slots for new hires. With over 15 years of data, researchers are beginning to examine the effects of the policy.
The National Science Foundation compared retirement rates for Ph.D. faculty in science, engineering, and health fields in 1993, before the ban went into effect, and 2003. Retirement is particularly tricky to count because some faculty continue to work even after officially leaving the job.
They found that over ten years, the average age of faculty had shifted older but that the shift may not be the result of eliminating mandatory retirement. One surprising change is that after 1994 the rate of retirement for faculty under 70 went up while the rate of faculty over 70 retiring went down slightly. The study also found differences in retirement rate by sex, type of institution, and discipline.
Even with more data available, the debate over the benefits and drawbacks of retirement will continue.