Your age, education, and work experience play an important role in your Social Security Disability claim if the Social Security Administration (SSA) finds that you have a severe medical impairment but do not meet a listing.

The SSA will determine what you’re capable of doing (known as your residual functional capacity, or RFC). It will then compare your RFC to your past work. If you’re able to perform your past work, the SSA will find that you are not disabled.

If you’re not able to return to your past work, the SSA will consider your vocational factors – age, education, and work experience – to determine if you can do any work.

This article explains how age, education, and work experience are evaluated under the SSA’s medical-vocational guidelines. If you have any questions about how to apply for Social Security Disability benefits or how to win your SSDI claim, call or email Richmond Social Security Disability lawyer Corey Pollard for a free consultation.

How Does Age Impact Social Security Disability Claims in Virginia?

Your age is the second most important factor in determining if you will win your SSDI or SSI claim. Your RFC is the first.

Under Social Security’s regulations, it will consider your chronological age along with your residual functional capacity, education, and past work experience. “In determining the extent to which age affects a person’s ability to adjust to other work, [Social Security] will consider advancing age to be an increasingly limiting factor in [your] ability to make such an adjustment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(a)

SSA Age Categories in Disability Claims

The SSA evaluates disability applicants using the following age categories:

  • Younger: a person under 50 years of age
  • Closely approaching advanced age: a person who is 50 – 54 years of age
  • Advanced age: a person who is 55 – 59 years of age
  • Closely approaching retirement age: a person who is 60 – 64 years of age

Social Security Disability claimants within each category are treated similarly. In other words, a 50-year-old claimant is treated the same as a 53-year-old-claimant.

There is, however, an exception. Under Social Security’s rules and regulations, the age categories should not be applied “mechanically in a borderline situation.” This means that if you are within a few months of a birthday that puts you in the next age category and leads to a finding of disability under the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, you may get the benefit of the doubt and a favorable ruling. We’ve helped many claimants in this situation get approved for benefits.

Social Security’s regulations do not address how age affects your ability to work. The commentary published with the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, however, does provide insight. Specifically, the commentary states, “Where age is critical to a decision, recognition is taken of increasing physiological deterioration in the senses, joints, eye-hand coordination, reflexes, thinking processes, etc., which diminish a severely impaired person’s aptitude for new learning and adaptation to new jobs.” The commentary further addresses age and its impact on disability when it states “in terms of how the progressive deterioration changes which occur as individuals get older affect their vocational capacities to perform jobs.”

As a general rule, the lower your RFC (i.e., the less you’re capable of doing), the better your chance of being found disabled as you get older. Let’s take a further look.

Sedentary Work and Older Age Impact Social Security Disability Claims

Winning your Social Security Disability case when you are 50 or older is much easier than if you’re under the age of 50. Claimants 50 years of age and older are likely to be found disabled under the medical-vocational guidelines when they’re limited to sedentary work.

The only SSDI or SSI claimants over 50 who will not be found disabled with a sedentary RFC are those who have work experience whose skills can be transferred to new jobs at the sedentary level or whom have performed work at the sedentary level in the past 15 years. The only types of jobs with transferable skills are those found to be skilled or semiskilled. In other words, claimants who are 50 or older must be able to do a new job with little or no adjustment to their industry, tools, or work processes. It must be easy for them to fit into the new job with limited training.

What about a claimant under age 50 who can do sedentary work? That claimant will likely lose their case under the medical-vocational guidelines.

If you’re between 18 and 44 your claim will be denied if you’re capable of performing sedentary work and do not have mental limitations.

If you’re 45-49 and limited to sedentary work, you may be found disabled under the medical-vocational guidelines if: all of your past work was unskilled with no transferable skills and you are either illiterate or unable to communicate in English. We’ve won cases for clients in this category when they had limited education and did not learn how to read or write. Keep reading for more information on how we did it.

Less than Sedentary - Winning a Disability Case for a Claimant Under Age 50

If you are less than 50 years old, you have a difficult Social Security Disability case. Though Social Security Ruling 96-9p states that a finding of disability is usually warranted when a younger individual is not capable of performing a full range of sedentary work, that is rarely enough to get a favorable decision from the administrative law judge (ALJ).

Should you give up your disability claim if you are under age 50? Absolutely not. But you should consider retaining a disability attorney with experience getting younger individuals approved for SSDI and SSI benefits.


Your Social Security Disability lawyer will focus on these limitations if you are under age 50 and seeking disability benefits:

Should you give up your disability claim if you are under age 50? Absolutely not. But you should consider retaining a disability attorney with experience getting younger individuals approved for SSDI and SSI benefits.


Rule 201.17 of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines requires a finding of disability for a claimant who is age 45 to 49, is unable to perform past relevant work (or has no past relevant work), is limited to sedentary work only, has no transferable work skills to other occupations, and is unable to read or write in English.

Proving illiteracy, however, is tough. Many times an ALJ will refuse to find a claimant illiterate even though all signs point to that being the correct finding. That is why it is important to submit additional evidence in cases involving illiteracy. Such evidence includes: school records, special education records, and testimony from friends, family, or coworkers.

Inability to Communicate in English

A claimant who is unable to communicate in English, is limited to sedentary work, and is age 45 or older will be found disabled under Rule 201.17 of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines.

Manipulative Limitations

Social Security Ruling 96-9p states that most unskilled jobs at the sedentary level require “good use of both hands and the fingers; i.e., bilateral manual dexterity. Fine movements of small objects require use of the fingers; e.g., to pick or pinch. Most unskilled sedentary jobs require good use of the hands and fingers for repetitive hand-finger actions.”

SSR 96-9p further states that, “Any significant manipulative limitation of an individual’s ability to handle and work with small objects with both hands will result in a significant erosion of the unskilled sedentary occupational base.”

The term “manipulative limitations” includes reaching, handling, fingering, feeling, grasping, turning, picking, and pinching.

Loss of use of an upper extremity, i.e. amputation of an arm, will generally lead to a finding of disability if the claimant is otherwise restricted to unskilled sedentary work. SSR 83-12.

Sitting Limitations

To perform a full range of sedentary work, you must have the ability to sit for a long period of time. SSR 83-10 states that in a sedentary position sitting will total roughly six hours of an eight-hour workday.

If your health requires that you alternate sitting and standing, the sedentary occupations you can perform will be reduced further. That is because most sedentary jobs “have ongoing work processes which demand that a worker be in a certain place or posture for at least a certain length of time to accomplish a certain task. Unskilled types of jobs are particularly structured so that a person cannot ordinarily sit or stand at will.”

Standing and Walking Limitations

Sedentary occupations require that an individual stay on their feet for roughly two hours out of an eight hour workday. An inability to do so will reduce the number of sedentary occupations that individual can perform. SSR 83-10.

Cane Use

Cane use precludes all work at higher exertional levels than sedentary work. Most sedentary jobs require you to pick up and return objects to your work station, and to stand or walk for two hours out of an eight hour workday. SSR 83-10. If you need to use a cane for all ambulation, even when walking on even surfaces, the sedentary jobs you can perform will be limited. In fact, many vocational experts will testify that cane use for standing and walking eliminates all sedentary jobs.

Need to Walk Around or Elevate Leg

If you need to walk around or elevate one or both legs for more than 15 percent of the workday, you will likely be found disabled. That is because such activities take you away from your work station. See our article on your disability claim and the need to elevate your legs.

Visual Limitations

SSR 96-9p states:

Most sedentary unskilled occupations require working with small objects. If a visual limitation prevents an individual from seeing the small objects involved in most sedentary unskilled work, or if an individual is not able to avoid ordinary hazards in the workplace, such as boxes on the floor, doors ajar, or approaching people or vehicles, there will be a significant erosion of the sedentary occupational base.

Environmental Limitations

SSR 96-9p states further:

In general, few occupations in the unskilled sedentary occupational base require work in environments with extreme cold, extreme heat, wetness, humidity, vibration, or unusual hazards.

Such a statements that if you are a claimant under age 50, you should focus on any environmental restrictions regarding exposure to respiratory irritants. That is because the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has concluded:

Approximately 85 percent of the 200 unskilled sedentary occupations that exist throughout the national economy are in the machine trades and bench work categories … The Fifth Circuit, on the other hand, observed that “[m]achine trades and bench work by their nature often involve exposure to dust, fumes and other suspended particles irritating or intolerable to persons afflicted with respiratory ailments.”

Warmoth v. Bowen, 798 F.2d 1109, 1112 (7th Cir. 1986).

Other Exertional Work Levels and Age

If you are 60-64 years of age and capable of sedentary or light work, you can still be found disabled under Social Security’s medical-vocational guidelines. Your claim will be denied, however, if you have transferable skills or more recent training for light work. The same is true for claimants who are 55 to 59 years of age.

Take-Away with Age and Social Security Disability Claims in Virginia

We consider age 55 to be the “magic age” for SSDI and SSI claims. It becomes easier to win when you reach this age. Remember, though, that being 55 or older does not guarantee that you will get approved for disability benefits. The threshold is still difficult and you continue to have the burden of proof in your case.

Do not be discouraged if you are under 55. If you have a mental disorder that impacts your activities of daily living and attention, concentration, and memory, you can still win your case even though you’re capable of work at the light, medium, or heavy level.

Call or e-mail us today for help winning your Social Security Disability claim in Virginia.