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Social Security Disability Rules After Age 50

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
June 22, 2022  ·  3 min read
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Qualifying for Social Security disability benefits can be easier for older workers with disabilities. The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers disabled workers 50 and older less trainable for new jobs and more susceptible to injury and illness. 

Learn about how the disability determination process can be more favorable to claimants over the age of 50, and how the considerations change for those at full retirement age.

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What is Social Security disability?

Individuals who are no longer able to work because of a medical condition or impairment can qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has two disability benefits programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). 

The eligibility requirements and benefit amounts differ between the two programs, but both offer monthly benefit payments and entitlement to health care coverage through Medicaid or Medicare. To determine eligibility, the SSA will review your earnings record and medical records, and evaluate how your condition impacts your ability to work. 

Learn more about the differences between SSDI benefits and SSI benefits.

Can I qualify for disability benefits based on age?

No, you cannot qualify for Social Security disability benefits based on age alone. To qualify for Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will evaluate your work history, disability status, and work capacity.

However, the SSA will evaluate your eligibility for disability benefits differently as you advance in age. Generally, the SSA is more favorable to applicants over the age of 50, and there are easier-to-meet medical criteria for this age group.

SSA age categories

To determine eligibility for SSDI benefits, the SSA categorizes applicants into the following groups:

  • Younger Individual (18-49)

  • Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50-54)

  • Advanced Age (55-59)

  • Approaching Retirement Age (60-67)

When a beneficiary reaches full retirement age, they will receive Social Security retirement benefits.

Social Security 5-step evaluation process

The Social Security Administration evaluates all Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income applicants with a five-step evaluation process. To determine eligibility, the SSA will evaluate:

  1. Financial eligibility: The SSA will determine whether your work qualifies as substantial gainful activity, also known as SGA. The 2024 SGA limit is $1,550 per month, or $2,590 if you’re blind.

  2. Severe impairment: You must be able to prove through medical records that your impairment, injury, or illness prevents you from working for at least one year. 

  3. Impairment criteria: The SSA determines medical eligibility through its list of qualifying conditions, known as the SSA Blue Book. The SSA will evaluate your medical condition based on the corresponding listing. 

  4. Previous employment: If you do not meet a listing impairment, the SSA will determine your residual functioning capacity (RFC) by evaluating your ability to perform work-related tasks. 

  5. Work capacity: A medical-vocational assessment will determine your capacity to work any job. If you have the skills to complete the tasks of your previous work, the SSA will likely deny your application for disability benefits. If you are over the age of 50, the SSA is more likely to approve your application for benefits.

What is residual functional capacity?

Residual functional capacity, also known as RFC, is an individual’s ability to perform work-related tasks, despite having a medical condition or impairment. To determine your RFC, the SSA will review your medical records to assess your ability to do mental tasks and several basic physical activities for a sustained amount of time, like lifting or carrying.

As part of this process, the SSA will consider the applicant’s ability to perform their past work. For applicants under the age of 50, the SSA will consider the applicant’s education level and past work experience to determine their capacity to do any kind of work activity.

If your doctor finds you can still perform a reasonably heavy work capacity, withstand physical activities for a prolonged period, and reasonably learn new skills, you will be less likely to receive disability income. It is usually the case that the heavier load you can work with, the higher the difficulty of being approved.

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Does age matter with Social Security disability?

Depending on your age, the Social Security Administration will evaluate your eligibility for disability benefits differently. Generally, the SSA is more favorable to applicants over the age of 50. Even if applicants over the age of 50 can perform light work, they typically qualify for benefits.

People under 50 must prove their disability prevents them from doing any work. People over 50 have to prove they can’t do the type of work they’ve done before or adjust to other work. This basic rule of thumb is what makes the 50-year age mark the most important one. 

The Social Security disability rules for this age group are known as Medical-Vocational Guidelines or GRID rules. Essentially, the rules evaluate an applicant’s age, educational level, work history, and the transferability of their skills.

Is it easier to get Social Security disability after age 50?

Yes, getting disability benefits after age 50 can be easier. Social Security classifies individuals between the ages of 50 and 55 as “closely approaching advanced age,” and there are special rules for eligibility. According to the SSA, people over 50 are less trainable in new fields of work and less likely to make a vocational transition, even if in good health. 

Applicants under age 50 must prove they can no longer perform any type of work to qualify for disability benefits. After age 50, applicants only have to prove they cannot return to their previous work experience or any vocations they worked in the past.

For example, suppose you are under the age of 50 and worked in construction before becoming disabled. You’d have to prove you can no longer work in any field — at a desk, taking tickets at a movie theatre, washing dishes, etc. If you are over the age of 50, you just have to prove you can no longer work in the field of construction.

Get help with your disability application

Take our two-minute quiz to see if you might qualify for disability benefits. A member of our team will follow up to learn more about your disability claim and offer advice. 

We can also connect you with a highly qualified Social Security disability lawyer, at no upfront cost. Working with a disability attorney can increase your chances of winning benefits by three times. 

Get personalized advice about your options.

Related resources:

Everything You Should Know About Disability Benefits (SSDI and SSI)

By Sarah Aitchison

An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Applying for Disability Benefits

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By Jackie Jakab

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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