Aging, Retirement, and High-skill Work Performance: the Case of State Supreme Court Judges

Elliott Ash (Princeton University)
W. Bentley MacLeod (Columbia University)

Abstract: This paper provides evidence on how high-skill work performance changes in response to biological aging, and in response to mandatory retirement policies. Our data set is constructed from the work product of all state supreme court judges for the years 1947 through 1994. Older judges have the same work output as younger judges but write lower-quality opinions. Older judges use a different writing style, with shorter words but longer sentences. Conditional on current age, judges who retire later in life write write higher-quality opinions than judges who retire earlier in life. Mandatory retirement policies have a demotivating effect on judge work output, but not on work quality.