Handbook of the
K . Warner Schaie and Sherry L. Willis
Bob G. Knight, Becca Levy, and Denise C. Park
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Aging in the Work Context
Catherine E. Bowen , Martin G. Noack , Ursula M. Staudinger
Jacobs Center on Lifelong Learning and Institutional Development, Jacobs University Bremen, Bremen, Germany
In this chapter, we discuss the interplay between work
and the psychological aspects of aging. There are of
course many ways in which people can “ work, ” that
is, be productive, in terms of their intellectual, emo-
tional, and motivational outputs (cf. Staudinger,
1996, 2008 ). We focus specifically on work in the
The Process of Aging in the Work Context 263
Work as an Important Developmental
Context: the Effect of Work Experiences
on Adult Development 264
Work and Cognitive Development 264
Work and Personality Development 265
Personality Growth and Adjustment 266
Work Experiences and Personality Adjustment 266
Work Experiences and Personality Growth 266
Aging and Work Outcomes 267
Fostering Positive Relationships
Between Aging and Work: Further
Training, Attitudes Toward Older Workers 268
Further Training 268
Attitudes Toward Older Workers 268
The Transition into and after Retirement 269
Retirement and Health 270
Post-Retirement Activities: Volunteering 271
Conclusions and Future Directions 272
form of paid employment and to a lesser extent on
post-retirement volunteering. The influence of the
employment context on adult development (e.g., cog-
nition, personality) has received increasing attention
as one of the major contextual influences of adult life.
Reciprocally, the relationship between age or aging,
respectively, and employment outcomes (i.e., produc-
tivity) has increased in importance for companies and
policy makers in light of falling birth rates and length-
ened life spans.
THE PROCESS OF AGING IN
THE WORK CONTEXT
As lifespan psychologists, we take the view that aging
is a lifelong process that does not suddenly begin (or
end) at any particular age. Also, the aging process is
multidirectional as well as multidimensional . In con-
trast to traditional conceptualizations of aging which
conceive of human development as characterized by
gains and advances in functioning up to a certain age
and then by losses, we take the view that development
at all times — including adulthood and even into old
age — is characterized by selective age-related adaptation
( Baltes, 1987 ). Individuals select (consciously or not),
where to direct and invest their resources, within the
various constraints posed by biology as well as their
social environment. Please note that “ selection ” refers
not only to conscious decisions such as whether or
not to work or which career to pursue, but also how
resources are invested within any given context. Here
we consider not only resource investment in outcomes
like task performance but also the wider notion of psy-
chological productivity ( Staudinger, 1996, 2008 ), which
turns our attention to the whole of an individual ’ s
intellectual and emotional, as well as motivational
outputs. According to this framework, intellectual
productivity refers to problem solving, creating and
| 17 |
Part SOCIAL AND HEALTH FACTORS THAT IMPACT AGING
| 3 |
sharing ideas, and giving advice. Emotional productiv-
ity consists of the ways that people contribute to their
own and other ’ s emotional well-being; for example,
through their vitality, lust for life, and good humor
even in the face of difficult life circumstances (i.e.,
resilience), or through their capacity for comforting
and sympathizing with others. Motivational produc-
tivity consists of the ways that people inspire others,
for instance, by being a role model or offering support
to others in the attainment of their goals. In addition
to different forms of productivity, different returns or
currencies of productivity can also be distinguished.
Money is the return most broadly discussed in our
society but other returns such as subjective well-being,
motivating others, and increasing social connected-
ness are crucially important but are less easily measur-
able. Acknowledging this wider psychological notion
of productivity and providing for contexts that facili-
tate its different facets may represent an important
contribution to developing a society for all ages.
How people direct their resources (again, consciously
or not) results in selective gains, maintenance in some
selected domains, and losses in others. As the effects of
individual “ choice ” and varying contexts accumulate
across adulthood (e.g., cumulative advantages and dis-
advantages, Dannefer, 2003 ), it is perhaps not surpris-
ing that between-person variability on any number of
outcomes tends to increase across adulthood until very
old age ( Nelson & Dannefer, 1992 ). In other words,
chronological age becomes less and less informative
with increasing age (e.g., Staudinger & Kocka, 2010 ).
While historically much of the research on work
and age has focused on cross-sectional comparisons
between age groups, to describe “ older workers ” as a
homogenous social group can be misleading given the
increasing diversity of age trajectories. Furthermore,
there is no dichotomy between “ older ” and “ younger ”
workers (see also Kessler et al., in press ). Therefore,
one of the aims of this chapter is to consider the work-
related research alongside theories and research on the
aging process as continuous, multidimensional, and
multidirectional. By taking a lifespan view, we would
like to emphasize that how people age is — within bio-
logically set limits — malleable and not determined.
WORK AS AN IMPORTANT
DEVELOPMENTAL CONTEXT: THE
EFFECT OF WORK EXPERIENCES
ON ADULT DEVELOPMENT
Work and Cognitive Development
Much research has been devoted to understanding
the role of the work context — specifically, the degree
of cognitive stimulation adults encounter within their
work environments — in predicting concurrent and
later patterns of cognitive functioning. Overwhelmingly,
the most common hypothesis informing research on
the relationship between the work context and cog-
nitive development is some derivation of the use-it-
or-lose-it or the disuse hypothesis ( Denney, 1984 ).
According to this theory, changes in cognition typically
observed with increasing age are at least in part caused
by disuse of certain skills and abilities. Earlier consid-
erations of the use-it-or-lose-it/disuse hypothesis typi-
cally did not differentiate between the need to practice
skills to maintain competence from the need to be
continuously faced with new, optimally discrepant
cognitive challenges to support cognitive development
throughout adulthood and old age (lack of new chal-
lenge hypothesis). This latter aspect has received more
attention in more recent work that also incorporates
the neurophysiological level.
Biologically speaking, these two aspects of the
hypotheses; that is, disuse and the lack of new chal-
lenges, are consistent with human and animal studies
showing that exposure to complex, mental challenges
resulting from activity engagement and environmen-
tal conditions can stimulate changes in the brain that
are beneficial for cognitive functioning — specifically,
the generation of new dendritic branches and more
synapses (e.g., van Praag et al., 2000 ). These processes
create more “ cognitive reserve, ” which enhances the
brain ’ s ability to compensate for age-related decline
(e.g., Kramer et al., 2004 ). According to the scaffolding
model of cognitive functioning (e.g., Park & Reuter-
Lorenz, 2009 ), the brain adaptively uses compensatory
scaffolding (finding alternative pathways, building
new pathways) in response to challenge (when the
“ normal ” pathway is blocked). While this process
is not unique to any particular age, as the number of
“ neural insults ” increases as the result of the biologi-
cal aging process (e.g., brain volume shrinks, loss of
dopaminergic receptors), scaffolding processes become
more important for maintaining cognitive functioning
toward later phases of the life span.
Despite the intuitive appeal of the use-it-or-lose-it/
optimal challenge hypotheses, this literature has been
criticized on the basis of methodological concerns
that render many of the findings inconclusive (e.g.,
Ghisletta et al., 2006; Salthouse, 2006 ). For instance,
support for the use-it-or-lose-it/optimal challenge
hypotheses has typically been based on cross-sectional
studies that cannot appropriately distinguish between
the selection effects that attract more able people to
more stimulating activities and environments from
any causal effects of cognitive stimulation on cognitive
functioning. Furthermore, many studies have failed to
account for important covariates such as gender, socio-
economic status, and health (see Salthouse, 2006 for a
review of the problems in this literature).
Recent analyses have made more conclusive sugges-
tions about possible causal links between cognitive
Chapter AGING IN THE WORK CONTEXT
| 17 |
stimulation at work and cognitive development.
Building on their seminal work, Schooler and col-
leagues used structural equation modeling on longitu-
dinal data to demonstrate that the self-directedness of
work (a combined measure of job complexity, routini-
zation, and the closeness of supervision) affected intel-
lectual functioning 20 years later more than intellectual
functioning affected self-directedness (these analyses
were controlled for age, gender, race, and education;
Schooler et al., 2004 ). Analysis of data from approxi-
mately 1000 World War II veterans revealed that higher
levels of intellectual demands and human interaction
at work (retrospectively assessed) were associated with
higher cognitive status after controlling for early adult-
hood intelligence, age, and education ( Potter et al.,
2007 ). Interestingly, results suggested that there was
an aptitude by context interaction such that individu-
als with lower initial intelligence in young adulthood
derived greater benefit from intellectually demanding
work. Longitudinal data from the Maastricht Aging
Study indicated that older people (average age 61,
range 50 – 85 years) with mentally demanding jobs
(currently or formerly) had lower risks of developing
cognitive impairment three years later (1.5% vs. 4% for
individuals with high and low mental work demands,
respectively). This relation was independent of intellec-
tual abilities at baseline as well as age, sex, education,
smoking, physical activity, alcohol, depression, family
history of dementia, and disease ( Bosma et al., 2003 ).
Similarly, a study of Swedish twins found that the
work complexity of an individual ’ s predominant life-
time occupation, and in particular, the complexity of
the work with other people and with data (as opposed
to things), predicted the incidence of dementia and
Alzheimer ’ s disease (AD) among adults aged 65 to 100
controlling for age, gender, and education ( Andel et al.,
2005 ). While the precise causal pathways responsible
for the relationship between cognitive stimulation in
the work context and cognitive development remain
unclear, overall evidence suggests that intellectual
engagement and cognitive stimulation, which can be
fostered by a cognitively stimulating work context, does
indeed promote more successful cognitive aging (see
also Hertzog et al., 2009 ).
In consideration of the biological mechanisms
thought to underlie the disuse and optimal challenge
hypotheses, we would like to suggest that distinguish-
ing between novel processing and other kinds of cog-
nitive stimulation may be useful in teasing out the
different mechanisms behind any possible effect of
cognitive stimulation (at work) and cognitive develop-
ment. In short, practice seems to help prevent the need
for scaffolding ( Park & Reuter-Lorenz, 2009 ), whereas
optimal levels of mental challenge support better scaf-
folding. Likewise, it would seem that more complex
jobs with regard to the skills practiced may support
the maintenance of a wider range of already estab-
lished pathways (i.e., crystallized abilities), whereas
it is particularly the encountering of novel situations
(at different levels of complexity) – at work and in
general – that supports the maintenance of fluid abili-
ties across adulthood (cf. Sternberg, 1985 ). In tentative
support of this argument, the results of a 6-year lon-
gitudinal study of older adults (mean age 68.5 years,
SD 7.61), found that novel information processing
was one of the few engagement domains (as opposed
to engagement in, e.g., social or passive information
processing activities) that significantly predicted less
longitudinal decline in one indicator of cognitive
speed (semantic decision) ( Bielak et al. 2007 ).
addition, retrospective self-reported novelty-seeking
behavior (sample items: learning a new skill, getting
a new experience) was negatively associated with the
development of AD relative to a control group after
controlling for education, occupational status, gen-
der, age, and ethnicity ( Fritsch et al., 2005 ). The nov-
elty perspective may also explain why the complexity
of social interactions encountered on the job, which
may be related to a higher likelihood of continuously
encountering novel aspects, seems to play a particu-
larly important role in cognitive development relative
to other aspects of complexity (e.g., motor skills, work
with data; Andel et al., 2005; Finkel et al., 2009; Kr ö ger
et al., 2008 ).
Work and Personality
In contrast to the hypothesis that personality past
young adulthood is “ set like plaster ” ( Costa &
McCrae, 1994, 2006 ), an increasing number of stud-
ies have demonstrated that personality continues to
develop across adulthood and even into old age (e.g.,
Donnellan & Lucas, 2008; Roberts & Mroczek, 2008;
Roberts et al., 2006a; Staudinger, 2005 ). The work
domain is thought to be one driver of adult personal-
ity change as adults learn and adapt to the demands
of working life (e.g., Hogan & Roberts, 2004; Roberts
et al., 2005; Schooler et al., 2004 ). The work context
socializes adults by demanding certain behaviors and
characteristics, for example, conscientiously complet-
ing tasks, attuning to others ’ needs and limiting social
conflict. Over time these behaviors and characteris-
tics become automatic and can subsequently “ spill
over ” into other life domains. The extent to which an
individual invests in his or her work role is thought
to moderate the extent to which these socialization
effects take place (cf. Ryff & Essex, 1992 ). In addition
to a socialization effect, a selection effect also seems
to play a role. The very characteristics that attract
1 Note though, that examples of novel information processing
included completing income tax forms or playing bridge. It is
questionable how “ novel ” this kind of processing actually is.
While the brain must handle new data in such situations, the
metacognitive structure of the task stays the same.
Part SOCIAL AND HEALTH FACTORS THAT IMPACT AGING
| 3 |
certain people to certain jobs (or particular contexts
more generally) are the same characteristics most
likely to change over time; for example, people who
are more open to start with also tend to prefer jobs
that are related to the encounter of continuously new
situations, and thus increase in openness over time
(e.g., Roberts & Robins, 2004 ). Importantly, the role
of the work context as a driver of personality develop-
ment tempers exclusively biological explanations of
adult personality change (e.g., McCrae et al., 1999 ).
Personality Growth and Adjustment
When considering adult personality change, we have
found it helpful to distinguish between two trajectories
of positive personality development, that is, personal-
ity adjustment and personality growth ( Staudinger &
Bowen, 2010 ; Staudinger & Kessler, 2009; Staudinger
et al., 2005; Staudinger & Kunzmann, 2005 ). Personality
adjustment refers to successful adaptation to contextual
demands arising from history-graded, age-graded, and
idiosyncratic developmental contexts ( Staudinger &
Kessler, 2009 ). Indicators of personality adjustment
include subjective well-being as well as the indicators
of social adaptability like the Big Five ( Costa & McCrae,
1992 ) traits neuroticism/emotional stability, consci-
entiousness, and agreeableness. Noting that positive
personality development has other dimensions that
are not captured by positive feelings or everyday com-
petence, we have defined personality growth to involve
advances in self and world insight and increases in the
complexity of emotion regulation (degree of affective
differentiation, tolerance of the coactivation of posi-
tive and negative emotions) as well as the motivation
to optimize not only one ’ s own well-being, but also
that of others (cf. Staudinger & Kessler, 2009 ). All three
components need to be simultaneously realized for
personality growth to occur. An important correlate
and/or antecedent of personality growth is the Big Five
dimension of openness to new experience indicating
an individual ’ s interest to pursue the kind of novel,
challenging contexts that increase the likelihood to be
confronted with new experiences, which in turn are
prone to challenge extant insights into self and life.
Loevinger ’ s (1997) measure of ego development is a
performance indicator of personality growth.
Work Experiences and Personality
Many indicators of personality adjustment have been
related to work experiences. Earlier research demon-
strated that working and succeeding in work robustly
leads to increases in adjustment-related personality
dimensions such as self-confidence, norm adherence,
independence, and responsibility ( Clausen & Gilens,
1990; Elder, 1969; Kohn & Schooler, 1978; Roberts,
1997 ). More recent longitudinal findings have also
shown that increases in work satisfaction are assoc-
iated with increases in measures of emotional stabil-
ity ( Roberts & Chapman, 2000; Roberts et al., 2003;
Scollon & Diener, 2006 ). Two recent studies by Roberts
and colleagues (2003, 2006b) have linked increases in
personality adjustment in young adulthood to invest-
ment in and rewards from the work context. Job sat-
isfaction, social status, and financial reward as well
as the degree to which individuals reported investing
in their jobs moderated the degree to which typical
developmental patterns in indicators of personality
adjustment took place between ages 18 and 26. For
example, young adults in jobs that provided higher
status, more satisfaction, and more financial security
decreased faster in neuroticism and increased faster in
communal positive emotionality (cf. agreeableness;
Roberts et al., 2003 ). In contrast, young adults who
invested less in their work role tended to increase in
neuroticism and maintain initial levels of constraint
(cf. conscientiousness), contrary to typical develop-
mental patterns in young adulthood (Roberts et al.,
2006b ). Although only young adults participated in
the two studies previously cited, we find the results
relevant as aging is a lifelong process that does not sud-
denly begin after one has reached advanced age.
Control beliefs are important predictors of adjust-
ment across the life span, including health (e.g.,
Chapter 11, this volume). The degree of freedom with
which an employee is allowed to self-determine his or
her job content or approach (i.e., job autonomy and
work control) has important influences on more global
control beliefs ( Huyck, 1991; Kivett et al., 1977; Kohn &
Schooler, 1973; Wickrama et al., 2008 ). Longitudinal
analysis of middle-aged men indicated that changes
in work control affected changes in personal control,
which in turn predicted self-reported health ten years
later — independent from baseline levels of work
control and global personal control ( Wickrama et al.,
2008 ). Low work control has been directly associated
with indicators of (lacking) adjustment such as depres-
sion ( Mausner-Dorsch & Eaton, 2000 ) as well as physi-
cal health ( Wickrama et al., 2005 ).
Work Experiences and Personality
Generally , the development of personality growth has
received much less attention than personality adjust-
ment, a pattern likewise reflected in the work litera-
ture. In a rare study that investigated the relationship
between the work context and personality growth,
women ’ s ego development over time was assoc-
iated with uninterrupted, successful work experiences
( Helson & Roberts, 1994 ). Some studies have investi-
gated work and the development of general wisdom.
General wisdom has been defined as an expertise in
the fundamental pragmatics of life permitting excep-
tional insight and judgment involving complex and
Chapter AGING IN THE WORK CONTEXT
| 17 |
uncertain matters of the human condition including
its developmental and contextual variability, plastic-
ity, and limitations (e.g., Baltes & Staudinger, 2000 ).
Contextual conditions thought to facilitate the devel-
opment of general wisdom include extensive exposure
to and experience with a wide range of human condi-
tions and mentor-guided practice in dealing with dif-
ficult life issues ( Charness, 1989; Salthouse, 1991 , see
also Staudinger et al., 2006 ). With some exceptions
(e.g., theologian, judge, clinical psychologist), such
conditions are not characteristic of most work con-
texts. In two cross-sectional studies, clinical psycholo-
gists displayed higher levels of general wisdom-related
performance than comparison groups from nonso-
cial service academic professions ( Smith et al., 1994;
Staudinger et al., 1992 ). Still, it is important to note
that advances in general wisdom (i.e., world-insight)
may not necessarily correlate with advances in personal
wisdom (i.e., self-insight), which is more relevant for
our discussion of personality growth (cf. Mickler &
Staudinger, 2008 ).
Trajectories of personality growth in recent cohorts
tend to stagnate after young adulthood ( Staudinger &
Bowen, 2010 ; Staudinger & Kessler, 2009 ). However, we
underline that the developmental trajectories we cur-
rently observe are in part the product of the contexts
in which current cohorts are aging. Theoretically, more
universally applicable features (as opposed to the strin-
gent contextual characteristics described in the previ-
ous paragraph) of the workplace could also facilitate
personality growth. For example, positions with super-
vising responsibilities may be conducive to above-
average confrontation with dilemma situations that
need to be resolved. Changing work contexts across
the life span such that novel experiences are a contin-
uous part of the work life (irrespective of the level of
qualification) may foster the reconsideration of earlier
life experiences. In addition, contextual demands to
critically consider alternative viewpoints – for instance,
within diverse work teams – may stimulate a broaden-
ing of self- and world-insight (cf. Staudinger & Bowen,
2010 ). In particular, the workplace has the potential
to provide an arena for intergenerational interactions
that under certain conditions can stimulate personality
growth. Experimental research has shown that interac-
tions between older and younger adults in which older
adults share their expertise can stimulate advances in
indicators of personality growth (i.e., emotional com-
plexity), as well as improve older adults ’ fluid cogni-
tive functioning ( Kessler & Staudinger, 2007 ).
AGING AND WORK OUTCOMES
Demographic changes including the rising median age
of workers and the need to increase the proportion of
older workers in the labor force have stimulated many
studies on the relationship between age and various
work outcomes such as performance. Within the organ-
izational literature, researchers distinguish between task
performance and “ non-core ” dimensions of work per-
formance such as attendance, innovation, and helping
behaviors (i.e., organizational citizenship behavior ). On
the one hand, the well-documented decreases in fluid
cognitive abilities and physical strength have given rise
to concerns about the ability of older adults to main-
tain task performance. On the other hand, it has often
been argued that older workers ’ greater experience can
improve performance or at least compensate for age-
related declines in some areas of functioning.
A recent meta-analysis of 380 studies found that
age was largely unrelated to core task performance as
indicated by supervisor-ratings, self-ratings, and objec-
tive measures ( Ng & Feldman, 2008 ). Indeed, a wide
range of research supports the idea that older adults
can successfully compensate for decrements in cog-
nitive mechanics by drawing on pragmatic resources
(e.g., B ä ckman & Dixon, 1992 ). This idea is sup-
ported by the results of a recent study of manufactur-
ing employees, which demonstrated that the negative
effect of age was canceled out by a positive effect of
job tenure on objective task performance as indicated
by the number of errors (in this study the authors
controlled for the selectivity bias of early exit from the
labor force; B ö rsch-Supan & Weiss, 2007 ).
On an individual level, the relationship between
age and task performance is likely mediated by many
factors. In particular, the extent to which task per-
formance is affected by age seems to be mediated by
occupational demands on fluid abilities, job-related
knowledge, motivation, and physical strength (e.g.,
Kanfer & Ackermann, 2004; Warr, 2001 ). All else
held equal, age has little and most likely even posi-
tive effects on job performance within occupations
that depend more on crystallized abilities and social
demands (e.g., salesperson, teacher), which are nor-
matively stable well into old age, rather than within
occupations that depend more upon more fluid abili-
ties (e.g., air traffic controller) or physical abilities (e.g.,
manual laborer; Skirbekk, 2008 ). Indeed, professional
experience, in the sense of practice (see above ) does
not seem to compensate for age-related changes in the
cognitive mechanics. For instance, practice as an archi-
tect or as a graphic designer did not appear to transfer
to a compensation of age-related declines in spatial
visualization and visual memory performance, respec-
tively ( Lindenberger et al., 1993; Salthouse, 1991 ). Age
decrements tend to be smaller when more complex
cognitive processes can be supported by environmen-
tal cues and aids, such as personal memos and com-
puter programs that remind people of the appropriate
steps to be taken to tackle a problem ( Warr, 2001 ).
As opposed to the overall null relationship between
age and task performance, age has generally been
positively associated with a range of work-related
Part SOCIAL AND HEALTH FACTORS THAT IMPACT AGING
| 3 |
outcomes beneficial for employers ( Ng & Feldman,
2008 ). Specifically, age was related to increased
attendance, safety performance, and organizational
citizenship behaviors (e.g., helping colleagues, not
complaining about trivial matters, trying to improve
group performance) and negatively associated with
counterproductive work behaviors (e.g., workplace
aggression, substance use, tardiness). Interestingly, the
relationship between age and organizational citizen-
ship behaviors was stronger in longitudinal studies
than in cross-sectional studies, indicating that develop-
mental effects and not only cohort differences underlie
the relationship ( Ng & Feldman, 2008 ). As organiza-
tional citizenship behaviors seems to benefit group
and organizational effectiveness ( Podsakoff et al.,
2000 ), the positive correlation between age and organ-
izational citizenship behaviors represents one poten-
tial benefit of employing older workers.
The research reviewed in this section underlines the
importance of considering multiple dimensions of what
is considered “ productive ” performance. Overall, older
workers ’ productivity can be expected to reveal itself in
a contribution to the whole group in the form of expe-
rience passed on to others and contribution to a less-
stressful and supportive climate, rather than individual
task performance (e.g., Kessler et al., in press ). Still,
we emphasize that group-level trends (old vs. young)
say little about how individuals — given the increasing
variability in developmental trajectories with increasing
age — will age within individual work contexts.
RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN AGING
AND WORK: FURTHER TRAINING,
ATTITUDES TOWARD OLDER
Two factors have been particularly prominent in the
recent literature concerning factors that moderate the
ability of societies, companies, and individuals to foster
positive relationships between aging and the work con-
text: further training and attitudes toward older workers.
Lifelong learning and thereby bolstering participa-
tion rates in further education has been offered as
one solution to the challenge posed by an aging work-
force. Intervention research has shown that adults of
all ages can benefit from training in terms of increased
levels of cognitive functioning (e.g., Ball et al., 2002 ).
Indeed, a representative, 24-year longitudinal study of
American men revealed a positive association between
participation in post-educational training of any kind
and cognitive functioning (Short Portable Mental
Status Questionnaire) in older adulthood, independ-
ent of the respondent ’ s formal education, race, age,
income, occupational status (blue/white collar), and
health ( Wight et al., 2002 ). This study suggested that
further training can have a compensatory effect: In old
age, those with initially low levels of formal education
who received subsequent training had comparable
levels of cognitive functioning as those with the high-
est initial levels of formal education. Training also has
positive effects for firms. It has also been associated
with higher organizational commitment and job sat-
isfaction ( Mikkelsen et al., 1999 ) as well as productiv-
ity increases on the industry and firm levels (Dearden
et al., 2005; Zwick, 2002 ).
Further training can help ameliorate and prevent
employees ’ (especially older employees ’ ) knowledge
from becoming outdated. This may be especially
important for updating employees ’ technological
skills. Technology clearly has become an integral part
of the workplace, but age has been found to be nega-
tively related to both technology use and breadth of
computer use (e.g., Czaja et al., 2006 ). In this study,
technology use was mediated by self-efficacy and anx-
iety, signaling that training, particularly with regard
to technology, needs to focus on building confidence
in addition to skill.
Current rates of participation in adult education
vary widely across the Organisation for Economic Co-
operation and Development (OECD) member coun-
tries (e.g., from 10% to over 35%; OECD, 2009a ).
Importantly, in all countries, the most qualified adults
participate in more training than the less qualified.
This indicates a pattern of accumulated disadvantage
(e.g., Dannefer, 2003 ), such that those with fewer edu-
cational qualifications also subsequently participate
less in the learning activities, which could potentially
compensate for initially lower qualifications (cf. Wight
et al., 2002 ). Furthermore, the discrepancy between
the participation rates of older relative to younger
employees has been the focus of much attention.
Sweden is the only country in the OECD in which 55
to 64 year olds participate in as much training as 25 to
34 year olds ( OECD, 2009a ). In most other countries,
the participation rates of older working age adults are
well below half that of younger working age adults.
Multiple factors are thought to underlie the age dis-
crepancies, including ageist attitudes of managers
who make training decisions and older workers ’ atti-
tudes (e.g., reduced self-efficacy, reduced motivation),
as well as higher costs and reduced incentives for both
the firm and the older employee to invest in further
training (e.g., Wooden et al., 2001 ) .
Attitudes Toward Older Workers
Despite a lack of evidence that age is systematically
and generally related to job performance (e.g., Ng &
Feldman, 2008 ), older workers continue to face
Chapter AGING IN THE WORK CONTEXT
| 17 |
negative attitudes (e.g., Gordon & Arvey, 2004 ). Often
just as workers are entering the zenith of their careers,
they are already considered less flexible, less ener-
getic, and at greater health risk as well as slower, less
creative, and disinterested in training, but also more
reliable and loyal (see Posthuma & Campion, 2009
for a review of age stereotypes in the workplace).
Negative attitudes about older workers are thought to
affect recruitment patterns as well as promotion and
The endorsement of such attitudes appears to vary
somewhat between countries. An international survey
of 6,320 private sector employers in 21 countries indi-
cated that there were considerable differences between
countries in the age at which an employee was consid-
ered old, ranging from 44 years in Turkey to 60.4 years
in Japan ( Harper et al., 2006 ). Interestingly, these dif-
ferences were unrelated to the population ’ s median
age, despite appearances given the two countries
cited. Employers were asked to compare older and
younger workers on a range of stereotypical charac-
teristics (e.g., loyal, flexible, technologically oriented).
On the whole, employers did not generally regard
older employees less positively than younger work-
ers, although employers did indeed tend to assign
individual traits to either older (e.g., reliable, loyal) or
younger workers (e.g., flexible, quick learners). Still,
there was variation between countries: Employers ’ age
attitudes were most positive in the UK and the United
States (interestingly two countries with strong anti-
age discrimination laws that may result in a stronger
social desirability bias), and most negative in Turkey
and Saudi Arabia.
Age stereotypes do not only vary between societies.
Initial evidence from work on age climate – a construct
capturing organization-specific age stereotypes –
found that companies differed significantly with
regard to how older employees within the company
were regarded ( Noack & Staudinger, 2010a ). Age cli-
mate is assessed by asking respondents to indicate the
extent to which adjectives related to work-related age
stereotypes (e.g., productive, flexible, reliable) cor-
respond with the image of older employees in their
company. Responses are averaged to create an indi-
cator of how favorably older employees are regarded
within the company. The differences between compa-
nies ’ age climates concurred with differences in their
personnel, knowledge, and health management prac-
tices regarding older workers. For example, in produc-
tion companies with a more favorable age climate,
older workers were hired directly from the labor mar-
ket, tended to participate frequently in further educa-
tion, and were offered preventive health training. On
the individual level, more positive perceptions of the
company ’ s age climate coincided with higher levels
of affective organizational commitment — indicat-
ing the emotional attachment to, identification with,
and involvement in the organization — among the
company ’ s older workers ( Noack et al., 2010c ) as well
as lower turnover intentions among employees of all
ages ( Bowen & Staudinger, 2010 ). Furthermore, for
workers age 40 and above, less positive perceptions
of the age climate went along with lower self-reported
work ability ( Noack & Staudinger, 2010b ).
Creating work environments that optimize work
and developmental outcomes necessitates an inte-
grated age management strategy that includes simulta-
neous attention to relevant issues like further training
and age attitudes, alongside dynamic personnel prac-
tices that are cognizant of the fact that individuals ’
abilities, interests, and needs change over the course
of their career. Because aging is a continuous, lifelong
process, companies need to create work environments
that support human development across the life span,
as opposed to beginning interventions only once an
employee has reached the age of 45 or 50 ( Staudinger,
2007; Staudinger et al., 2008 ). For example, to most
effectively use further training as a mechanism to
buffer or compensate for cognitive decline, training
should not be restricted to higher ages, although this
is probably currently and for some years to come the
life period that needs the most attention, given the
rather low participation of over 55 years olds rela-
tive to younger adults ( OECD, 2009a ). Rather, train-
ing should become an integral part of (working) life
across the life span, so that individuals do not fall out
of the education loop. Indeed, previous further train-
ing predicts current participation in future training
(e.g., Maurer et al., 2003 ). Likewise, fostering positive
images of aging as well as a sense of internal control
over attaining positive developmental outcomes needs
to begin early on in the life span.
THE TRANSITION INTO AND
Given the many ways in which working contributes
to adult development, retirement (i.e., exit from the
paid work context) also deserves some attention in
our discussion of work and aging. Importantly, retire-
ment is a transitional process as opposed to a sud-
den change in life. The process begins with thoughts
about retirement, the development of a desire to
retire, later followed by the decision and finally the
actual act of retirement ( Beehr, 1986 ).
Beginning in midlife, employees begin to place more
emphasis on intrinsic rewards from work, such as a
feeling of accomplishment, of learning and experienc-
ing new things, and of doing something worthwhile
( Penner et al., 2002 ). In a survey by the American
Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 84% of older
employees (45 – 74 years) indicated a desire to work
even if they were financially set for life, and 69%
said they planned to work into their retirement years
Part SOCIAL AND HEALTH FACTORS THAT IMPACT AGING
| 3 |
( Montenegro et al., 2002 ). Older employees ’ reasons
for continuing to work are wide ranging, including not
only extrinsic benefits such as increased financial secu-
rity and health care benefits, but also enjoyment and a
sense of purpose as well as social participation ( Hedge
et al., 2006 ).
Older adults are increasingly seeking some sort
of bridge employment that allows for gradual (as
opposed to sudden) transition out of the work con-
text. On the individual level, age and stress exper-
ienced at pre-retirement jobs seem to be predictive
of choosing full retirement over bridge employment
( Gobeski & Beehr, 2009 ). Full retirement can offer
an escape from unpleasant work roles (e.g., Barnes-
Farrell, 2003 ). Higher levels of education and bet-
ter health led older workers to decide for continued
involvement in paid work ( Wang et al., 2008 ). While
most employees who plan to work after retirement
hope to build on their accumulated expertise by
remaining in a line of work that is similar to their cur-
rent occupation ( Hedge et al., 2006 ), more than half
of the retirees who take bridge jobs change occupa-
tion and/or industry, often accepting reduced wages
and status in return for the flexibility of a bridge job
(e.g., Feldman, 1994; Shultz, 2003 ). Whether an older
worker seeks bridge employment in the same or a new
line of work depends on the costs and benefits assoc-
iated with that line of work. When intrinsic job charac-
teristics, like autonomy, task identity, task significance,
feedback, and skill variety were high in his or her pre-
vious line of work, the likelihood for continuing in a
job similar to the career job was also high ( Gobeski &
Beehr, 2009 ). In contrast, higher job-related strain was
predictive of taking a non-career bridge job.
Company policies can affect the retirement process.
For instance, corporate restructuring and downsizing
by means of buyouts and layoffs has resulted in many
older workers tending to retire earlier from their long-
tenure, career jobs. Companies can also influence the
retirement transition by providing roles and opportu-
nities for older workers seeking bridge employment.
For instance, companies can retain retired employees
as internal consultants. Some companies recruit their
retiring managers into a filial enterprise that pro-
vides consulting service at a high level ( Deller et al.,
2008 ). Other companies create alumni-networks and
thus keep in touch with their retirees, which creates
a similar potential for back-recruiting (cf. Staudinger
et al., 2008 ). As one of the motives underlying post-
retirement activities seems to be generativity ( Deller
et al., 2009 ), offering retiring employees the position
of a mentor for incoming members of the company
is just one of many ways how retirees can contribute
to the work context.
Societal policies also affect the retirement process.
For example, before recent retirement policy changes,
the German federal government set strong incentives
for companies to lay off their older employees, or
rather, to send them into early retirement by heav-
ily subsidizing their severance pay. Even as recently
as 2005, Germany spent 0.06% of its gross domes-
tic product on early retirement programs with 1 in
450 workers in early retirement ( OECD, 2009b ).
Furthermore, German policy creates a disincentive for
older adults to continue working past pension eligi-
bility, since a large proportion of any earned salary is
deducted from state pension benefits. The situation is
quite different in the United States, where there are
no public incentives for early retirement. These policy
differences are reflected in changes of the labor force
participation rates of 55 to 64 year olds in the two
countries. In both countries, the labor force participa-
tion of the above 55 year olds increased continuously
from 1994 to 2008. However, the changes were much
more pronounced among older men (53.1 to 67.2%)
and women (28.3 to 50.6%) in Germany relative to
the older men (65.5 to 70.4%) and women (48.9 to
59.1%) in the United States, where participation rates
were already initially much higher ( OECD, 2009b ).
Retirement and Health
An important question regarding the transition into
retirement regards its potential impact on physical and
mental health (see Wurm et al., 2009 for a compre-
hensive review on the topic). With regard to physical
health, empirical findings from longitudinal studies
suggest that retirement per se neither harms nor ben-
efits health (e.g., Ekerdt et al., 1983; Mein et al., 2003;
Van Solinge, 2007 ). Pre-retirement unemployment, in
comparison, was found to have significantly negative
effects on physical health of participants in the Health
and Retirement Study ( Gallo et al., 2006 ). Similarly,
there does not appear to be a straightforward rela-
tionship between retirement and indicators of men-
tal health. Retirement has been found to be related
to fewer depressive symptoms in some studies (e.g.,
Reitzes et al., 1996 ), while other studies found that
the reduction of depressive symptoms was limited
to only individuals retiring from highly prestigious
positions (e.g., Mein et al., 2003 ) or found that retire-
ment weakly increased depressive symptoms ( James &
Spiro, 2006 ). Generally, bridge employment has been
found to be predictive of both retirement satisfaction
and psychological well-being ( Kim & Feldman, 2000 ).
Retirement may entail certain losses in terms of,
for example, income, social interactions, status, and
structure as well as meaning in life (cf. Havighurst
et al., 1968 ). But retirement may also entail new
opportunities, freedom, and independence after hier-
archy, time demands, and other work-related strains
cease (cf. Rosenmayr, 1983 ). The extent to which
retirement individually represents losses and gains
would seem to correspond with any potential changes
in overall physical and mental health. Indeed, a study
using data from the German Socioeconomic Panel
Chapter AGING IN THE WORK CONTEXT
| 17 |
and growth mixture modeling identified three dis-
tinct trajectories of life satisfaction experienced dur-
ing the retirement transition ( Pinquart & Schindler,
2007 ). For most people, retirement predicted a small
increase in life satisfaction. The second trajectory was
characterized by an increase in life satisfaction imme-
diately following retirement, against the backdrop
of a relatively strong overall decline in life satisfac-
tion in the years prior to and following retirement.
This trajectory was particularly characteristic of reti-
rees who had been unemployed immediately prior
to retirement. The third trajectory was characterized
by immediate post-retirement decline followed by
a slow recovery. Relative to the first, most common
trajectory, people in the latter two classes had fewer
resources (e.g., socioeconomic status, physical health,
married) for adapting to retirement. Interestingly,
it seems that individuals may have a limited ability
to predict their well-being after leaving work. In one
study, older employees included in early retirement
schemes initially tended to anticipate retirement as a
reward. After one year, however, the majority of early
retirees wanted to return to work, mostly in a part-
time position and with more freedom in working
arrangements ( Aleksandrowicz et al., 2009 ).
In sum, there does not appear to be any general
causal relationship between retirement and either phys-
ical or mental health. The effect of retirement on health
seems to greatly depend upon individual preferences
and pre-retirement working conditions as well as the
individual ’ s ability and resources to adapt to the new
life stage. Changes in social status, social engagement,
meaning in life, financial security, and even physical
activity ( Berger et al., 2005; Slingerland et al., 2007 )
may accompany the retirement process and probably
to a great extent explain any effect of retirement on
health. It is therefore critical in considerations of the
effect of retirement on health to take into account post-
retirement opportunities as well as individual resources
(e.g., health, social network, openness to new exper-
ience) that can help people to mitigate any potential
negative changes as well as profit from new opportuni-
ties that may accompany the retirement process.
In recent years, more and more older adults have been
participating in volunteer activities. For instance, in
Germany, participation in volunteer activities rose from
31% in 1999 to 37% in 2004 among 60 to 69 year olds
( Gensicke et al., 2005 ). In Germany, the main areas of
voluntary engagement for individuals age 60 and above
are sports (e.g., trainer), religion (e.g., organizer of char-
ity events), care-taking (of very young and old-old non-
family members), structured leisure time activities (e.g.,
organizer of excursions for senior citizens), and culture
(e.g., manager or conductor of a choir) ( Gensicke et al.,
2005 ). Between 1999 to 2004, the areas of older adults ’
voluntary engagement became more diversified with a
small but rapidly increasing participation also in other
areas like citizens ’ initiatives, nature protection groups,
politics, and labor unions. Still, volunteer participation
rates vary widely between countries. In Europe, data
from the second wave of the Survey for Health, Aging,
and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) revealed that par-
ticipation rates among individuals age 50 and above
ranged between approximately 2 and 25% ( Hank &
Erlinghagen, 2009 ). Many more respondents had been
engaged in volunteer activities during the month pre-
ceding the interview in Northern European countries
as compared to Southern and Eastern European coun-
tries. This finding was interpreted to be consistent with
differences between the welfare state regimes of these
countries that seem to offer different incentives and
opportunities for civic engagement ( Hank & Stuck,
Data from the Berlin Aging Study (BASE) showed
that post-retirement social participation is cumula-
tive (e.g., Bukov et al., 2002 ) and demonstrates a high
degree of continuity across the life span (e.g., Hank &
Stuck, 2008; Maas & Staudinger, 2009 ). Individuals
who volunteered during adolescence and early adult-
hood had a significantly higher likelihood to also
volunteer as retirees. Educational and occupational
resources predict the intensity of social engagement,
over and above gender differences. In addition, age
(i.e., being younger than 75), current health status,
and having a stable partnership also seem to predict
social engagement ( Erlinghagen & Hank, 2006 ). Caro
(2009) illustrated that for older adults — especially
for the highly educated Baby Boomers — to contrib-
ute substantial amounts of their time to volunteering
they might need specific opportunities that draw upon
their individual experience and skills. Thus, systematic
recruitment, placement, and training of volunteers
may be helpful to fully profit from retiring workers ’
potentials and to provide older adults with meaning-
ful roles in their post-retirement life.
Importantly , volunteering has been found to have
positive consequences for older individuals. For exam-
ple, volunteer work was significantly and positively
related to quality of life in retirement and to retirement
satisfaction ( Kim &
Feldman, 2000 ). Similarly, longi-
tudinal data from the United States has shown that for
individuals aged 60 years and older, volunteering was
associated with higher levels of well-being ( Morrow-
Howell et al., 2003 ). In another study using U.S. panel
data, a moderate amount of volunteering (about two
hours per week) had a protective effect regarding older
adults ’ self-reported health ( Luoh & Herzog, 2002 ).
In this longitudinal study based on a representa-
tive sample of older adults, the authors controlled
for potential selectivity effects into volunteer activi-
ties by assessing objective health status at baseline.
Part SOCIAL AND HEALTH FACTORS THAT IMPACT AGING
| 3 |
A bi-directional relationship between health and vol-
unteering emerged: While earlier self-reported health
affected later volunteering activities, volunteering also
reciprocally positively affected later health status. Such
positive effects have been traced back to increases in
self-esteem, strengthening of social networks and pur-
pose in life ( Morrow-Howell et al., 2003 ). In a recent
experimental study, we demonstrated that older adult
volunteers who participated in competence training as
part of their volunteering activities, and also reported
above median internal control beliefs, demonstrated
continuous increases in openness to experience over
a period of 15 months, in contrast to nonvolunteers
as well as volunteers who did not receive the compe-
tence training ( M ü hlig-Versen & Staudinger, 2010 ).
These results show that volunteering, in combination
with certain internal resources (e.g., internal control,
strategies to master the situation), can reverse the typi-
cal adulthood pattern of decreasing openness to new
experience — an indicator of personality growth as
CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE
In this chapter we have reviewed evidence that for
better or worse, work experiences are one important
source for adult development. Most of the evidence
presented has referred to work in the sense of paid
employment and to some extent to work in the sense
of volunteering, although many of the mechanisms
and trends we have described are also more generally
applicable to other forms of productive activity. We
have also reviewed evidence that older workers and
adult development can positively contribute to the
work domain. This view becomes particularly apparent
when one considers “ productivity ” in a wider sense,
both within the work context (e.g., Ng & Feldman,
2008 ) as well as a notion of psychological productivity
( Staudinger, 1996, 2008 ).
In line with a contextualistic perspective (cf. Baltes
et al., 1980 ), we would like to emphasize that develop-
ment — as we currently observe it — is not set in stone.
The impressive plasticity of human development and
aging needs to be taken seriously with regard to the
construction of the work context and contexts more
generally. Optimizing developmental outcomes —
within the work and volunteer contexts, or in any con-
text more generally — can be aided by taking a lifespan
view of development as opposed to focusing only on
older adults. More systematic intervention knowledge
is needed to be in a position to construct work environ-
ments such that they not only prevent the exhaustion
of an individual ’ s productivity but also develop and
foster it across the life span. Of course, work is neces-
sary to afford our living. But work (or activity to use a
more neutral notion) also is one of the prime sources
of meaning and well-being in an individual ’ s life. A
society of longer lives may develop its potential to the
fullest only if it succeeds in creating work contexts that
support continued development into later adulthood.
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