Nursing home and home health aides are also two to three times more likely than other workers to be unmarried and to have children at home (GAO, 2001b). Second, while research has shown that men and women both experience stress in balancing work and family obligations, multiple studies on the division of household tasks have found that women continue to perform far more chores than do men (Wentling, 1998).

An Older and More Rapidly Aging Nursing Workforce

The entire U.S. workforce is aging, largely as a result of the aging of baby boomers. As noted, however, the RN workforce is already older than the total U.S. workforce and is aging more rapidly. The average age of the RN workforce was 37.4 in 1983 (Buerhaus et al., 2000), but had increased to 45.2 years by 2000 (Spratley et al., 2000). In the 1980s, the majority of nurses were in their twenties and thirties; by 2000, this distribution had changed substantially, with four times more 40-year-old than 20-year-old nurses. The average age of RNs is projected to increase and peak at 45.5 years in 2010 (Buerhaus, et al., 2000). In contrast, the Department of Labor forecasts the age of the overall labor force to reach only 40.7 years by 2008 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1999).

The more rapid aging of the RN workforce is attributed to three factors. First, large cohorts of the existing RN workforce are in their fifties and sixties—a function of the baby boom. Only when RNs born in the 1950s reach retirement age in approximately 2020 is the age distribution of the RN workforce projected to shift back toward younger ages (Buerhaus et al., 2000). Also, fewer young people are choosing to become RNs, so the proportion of younger nurses among all RNs is declining (Buerhaus et al., 2000; Spratley et al., 2000). Finally, in recent years, new graduates of basic nursing programs have tended to be older, and thus the average age of entrants into the RN workforce has been higher (Spratley et al., 2000).4

This aging workforce has implications for nurses’ work environments. The loss of strength and agility that often accompanies aging affects the ease with which nurses can perform patient care activities that require them to turn, lift, or provide weight-bearing support to patients. Focus groups of nurses have revealed that among nurses who plan to stay in the field, many are concerned that they will be unable to do so as they age because of the heavy physical demands of the job (Kimball and O’Neil, 2002). Ergonomic


In contrast, NAs are younger than RNs, and their age distribution has remained comparatively stable. From the late 1980s to the late 1990s, the mean age of NAs working in hospitals, nursing homes, and home health care changed from 36.3 to 38.0 years, 36.6 to 36.4 years, and 46.7 to 42.8 years, respectively (Yamada, 2002).

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