Newly degreed nurses are struggling to find work because older RNs are putting off retirement, according to a new study published in the August 2014 issue of Health Affairs.

In the article, “Registered nurses are delaying retirement, a shift that has contributed to recent growth in the nurse workforce,” authors David I. Auerbach, a policy researcher from the RAND Corporation, Peter Buerhaus, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies, Institute of Medicine and Public Health, Vanderbilt University,and Douglas Staiger, the John French Professor in Economics, Dartmouth College, said the size of the registered nurse workforce has surpassed forecasts from a decade ago, growing to 2.7 million in 2012. Much of the difference is the result of a surge in new nursing graduates.

But baby-boomer RNs now in the workforce are staying on the job more than in past years, the researchers reported. In the period 1969–90, for a given number of RNs working at age fifty, 47% were still working at age sixty-two and 9% were working at age sixty-nine. In contrast, in the period 1991–2012 the proportions were 74% at age sixty-two and 24% at age sixty-nine. “This trend, which largely predates the recent recession, extended nursing careers by 2.5 years after age fifty and increased the 2012 RN workforce by 136,000 people,” the authors wrote. “Because many RNs tend to shift out of hospital settings as they age, employers seeking RNs for non-hospital roles may welcome (and seek to capitalize on) the growing numbers of experienced RNs potentially able to fill these positions.”