Running head: SUCCESSFUL AGING
Successful Aging at Work and Beyond: A Review and Critical Perspective
University of Leipzig & Queensland University of Technology
Cort W. Rudolph
Saint Louis University
Chapter to appear in the book Age Diversity in the Workplace: An Organizational
Perspective edited by Silvia Profili, Alessia Sammarra, and Laura Innocenti
(Emerald Advanced Series in Management in 2017)
University of Leipzig
Institute of Psychology
Phone: +49 341 97-35932
Cort W. Rudolph
Saint Louis University
Department of Psychology
Morrissey Hall 2827
St. Louis, MO, 63103
Phone: +1 314 977-7299
Acknowledgement: The authors thank Shelly Rauvola for her help with preparing this chapter.
SUCCESSFUL AGING 2
As the workforce is aging and becoming increasingly age diverse, successful aging at work has
been proclaimed to be a desirable process and outcome, as well as a responsibility of both
workers and their organizations. In this chapter, we first review, compare, and critique
theoretical frameworks of successful aging developed in the gerontology and lifespan
developmental literatures, including activity, disengagement, and continuity theories; Rowe and
Kahn’s model; the resource approach; the model of selective optimization with compensation;
the model of assimilative and accommodative coping; the motivational theory of lifespan
development; socioemotional selectivity theory; and the strength and vulnerability integration
model. Subsequently, we review and critically compare three conceptualizations of successful
aging at work developed in the organizational literature. We conclude the chapter by outlining
implications for future research on successful aging at work.
Keywords: age; diversity; lifespan; successful aging; work
SUCCESSFUL AGING 3
As the workforce is aging and becoming more age diverse, organizational researchers and
practitioners have become increasingly interested in the role of age in the work context. We now
have a solid knowledge base on how worker age and age diversity in teams relate to important
outcomes, including work performance, job attitudes, and occupational health and well-being
(Hertel & Zacher, 2017; Schneid, Isidor, Steinmetz, & Kabst, 2016; Truxillo, Cadiz, & Hammer,
2015). Moreover, we have a good understanding of how the effects of human resource
management practices on work outcomes may differ between younger and older workers (Kooij
et al., 2013; Kooij, Jansen, Dikkers, & de Lange, 2014). However, a core concept in this area is
so far not well understood and often used uncritically by researchers and practitioners: successful
aging at work. Even though the term has been used in the organizational literature for more than
two decades (Abraham & Hansson, 1995; Hansson, DeKoekkoek, Neece, & Patterson, 1997), no
agreed upon definition and operationalization of the concept exist.
The term successful aging at work is often used in a vague way to describe various
positive outcomes attained by older workers. However, this approach neglects several important
questions: first, the dictionary defines “success” as the accomplishment of an aim or the positive
outcome of an undertaking—but what does “success” mean in the contexts of aging and work?
Second, what is meant by “aging” and what time frame is necessary to observe aging in the work
context? Finally, why are some workers aging successfully, whereas other workers are aging
unsuccessfully? To address these questions, our first goal in this chapter is to review, compare,
and critique several prominent theories of successful aging from the gerontology and lifespan
developmental literatures. Our second goal is to review and critically compare three approaches
to successful aging at work developed in the organizational literature. Finally, we conclude the
chapter by outlining implications for future research on successful aging at work.
SUCCESSFUL AGING 4
2. Gerontological Theories of Successful Aging
In this section, we review and critique several prominent theories of successful aging
developed in the gerontology literature, including activity, disengagement, and continuity
theories, as well as Rowe and Kahn’s (1987) model. These theories were developed by
gerontologists between the 1950s and 1980s and thus represent early conceptualizations of
successful aging. Whereas activity, disengagement, and continuity theories mainly focus on
subjective well-being components—life satisfaction in particular—as criteria for successful
aging, Rowe and Kahn’s model was influenced by biological and medical research and thus
proposes more objective criteria (e.g., diagnoses of diseases).
Before we describe and discuss these gerontology theories in further detail, it is important
to note the age groups and contexts to which these theories apply. The literature on work and
aging focuses on individuals in the work context, who are in a life stage between career entry
(typically individuals between the ages of 15-25 years) and retirement entry (typically
individuals between the ages of 60-70 years; of course, some individuals will start working and
retire earlier or later than these typical age ranges). As age is a continuous variable, no cut-off
exists when a worker becomes an “older worker,” but, for practical reasons, organizations and
governments often use cut-offs such as 40, 45, or 50 years. In contrast, the gerontology literature
typically distinguishes between young (< 40 years), middle-aged (40-60 years), older (60-84
years), and very old (85 years and older) individuals. Theories and empirical studies in the
gerontology literature typically focus on older and very old individuals (i.e., those aged 60 years
and older) of whom many, if not most, are not working in paid employment anymore, but have
retired from their career jobs. Although there is some overlap between those typically considered
“older workers” in the literature on work and aging and those more generally considered “older
SUCCESSFUL AGING 5
adults” in the gerontology literature, the focus on older and very old adults as well as non-work
behaviors and contexts in gerontology theories and research is important to keep in mind when
applying these theories to the work context and to aging workers.
2.1. Activity, Disengagement, and Continuity Theories
Activity, disengagement, and continuity theories are three major historically significant
theories of psychosocial development in old age and successful aging (Bengtson, Gans, Putney,
& Silverstein, 2009; Vander Zyl, 1979). Activity theory proposes that successful aging is the
result of older adults staying active, particularly with regard to social interactions, and engaged
within society (Havighurst, 1961; Havighurst & Albrecht, 1953; Neugarten, Havighurst, &
Tobin, 1961). More specifically, activity theory suggests that by maintaining personal
relationships and by staying socially active, older adults can slow down or even avoid age-
related losses and improve their subjective well-being (particularly life satisfaction). Moreover,
activity theory proposes that, to maintain their subjective well-being, older adults should
substitute previous life roles, relationships, and activities from the mid-life phase (e.g., work,
caring for own children) with new life roles, relationships, and activities (e.g., volunteering,
grand-parenting). Consistent with propositions of activity theory, a longitudinal study showed
that engagement in volunteering activities, providing help to others, and being a member of
sports or social clubs positively predicted quality of life among retirees over a time period of two
years (Potočnik & Sonnentag, 2013).
Researchers have been critical of activity theory, suggesting that it neglects
socioeconomic and health disparities that influence whether or not older adults can remain
socially active in old age (Bengtson et al., 2009). Though activity is often portrayed as something
positive by researchers and policy makers (as compared to negative outcomes such as illness and
SUCCESSFUL AGING 6
dependency), critics have argued that activity theory acts as a moral convention that transfers the
“busy ethic” of people’s former work lives to the subsequent retirement phase—older adults are
supposed to be “forever productive” (Ekerdt, 1986; Laliberte-Rudman & Molke, 2009). More
broadly, Katz (2000) suggested that “the ideal of activity” in old age was compelled by a
neoliberal and market-driven agenda, which requires older adults to be “empowered” and active
to avoid stigmatization and dependency in the context of a declining welfare state: “Bodies, to be
functional, must be busy bodies” (p. 142). Moreover, a related critique of activity theory is that
new roles, relationships, and activities may not simply replace previous ones; activity theory
appears to neglect the quality and personal meaning associated with former and new roles and
activities. Activity theory also neglects that individuals’ psychosocial needs may change in later
life; for instance, older adults may be more interested in personal growth and close relationships
than in new relationships and continuously being involved in social activities (Carstensen, 2006;
In contrast to activity theory, disengagement theory more controversially suggests that
aging is inevitably associated with reduced social interactions and the mutual withdrawal of
older adults, along with others in his or her social environment, and society as a whole; the
withdrawal of older adults is seen as natural, voluntary, and acceptable (Cumming & Henry,
1961). The key mechanisms proposed by disengagement theory are older adults’ emerging sense
of mortality and impending death, and a growing need for self-reflection and contemplation of
the end of life. Moreover, in a set of propositions, Cumming and Henry (1961) argued that
individuals’ knowledge, skills, and abilities decline with age; due to fewer social interactions,
older people are less influenced by social norms; the disengagement process differs between men
and women due to different roles in life; disengagement is the result of interactions between the
SUCCESSFUL AGING 7
person and his or her environment; and the specific form of disengagement is influenced by
cultural factors. Disengagement theory has been criticized as overly person-centered,
unidirectional (i.e., focusing exclusively on age-related loss), and prescriptive–normative.
However, research has shown that age-related losses and decline are neither universal nor
inevitable, but instead that age-related changes are multidimensional and multidirectional, and
there is great potential for plasticity (i.e., intraindividual modifiability) at any age (e.g.,
Lachman, Teshale, & Agrigoroaei, 2015).
Continuity theory was developed as an extension of activity theory. The theory suggests
that most older adults maintain the same level of activity, behaviors, and social relationships as
in earlier life stages despite changes in their physical health and social status (Atchley, 1971,
1989; Maddox, 1968). Continuity theory distinguishes between internal continuity (e.g.,
remembered ideas, experiences, affect, skills) and external continuity (e.g., role performance,
activities, relationships). The theory further argues that individuals’ personalities, values,
preferences, and beliefs mostly remain constant across the lifespan; when external circumstances
change, older adults want to maintain continuity and thus set goals and use strategies to adapt to
changes. Similar to activity and disengagement theories, continuity theory has been criticized for
neglecting the roles that social institutions and socioeconomic inequalities in health and financial
resource may play in shaping the aging process. Moreover, researchers have criticized that the
theory focuses only on “normal” as compared to “pathological” aging and thus neglects older
adults with chronic illnesses and disabilities.
In summary, activity, disengagement, and continuity theories are historically important
insomuch as they each prescribe the best approach to age successfully (i.e., maintain well-being
in old age). Whereas activity theory argues that successful aging is active aging, disengagement
SUCCESSFUL AGING 8
theory suggests that older adults should withdraw from society to age successfully, and
continuity theory proposes that older adults maintain their levels of activity across different life
stages. However, none of the three theories is clearly supported by empirical evidence (Burbank,
186). Therefore, these theories are less frequently used today than Rowe and Kahn’s model and
theories based on the lifespan developmental perspective, which we review in the following
2.2. Rowe and Kahn’s Model of Successful Aging
In their initial attempt to define successful aging, Rowe and Kahn (1997) distinguished
the concept from “normal” and “usual aging.” They defined normal aging as being free from
physical and mental pathology and further categorized individuals aging normally into those
following an average or normative age-related trend in an objective life outcome (“usual aging”),
those following a more positive than average age-related trend (“successful aging”), and those
following a less favorable than average age-related trend (“unsuccessful aging”). Based on the
observation that considerable heterogeneity exists in objective life outcomes among older adults,
Rowe and Kahn (1987) argued that these age-related developmental trends in life outcomes are
influenced by individual differences in genetics and lifestyle factors, as well as by contextual
factors such as social support. Of these factors, they particularly emphasized the role of human
agency in successful aging:
“To succeed in something requires more than falling into it; it means having desired it,
planned it, worked for it. All these factors are critical to our view of aging which, even in
this era of human genetics, we regard as largely under the control of the individual. In
short, successful aging is dependent upon individual choices and behaviors. It can be
attained through individual choice and effort” (Rowe & Kahn, 1998, p. 37).
SUCCESSFUL AGING 9
Rowe and Kahn (1997) later specified successful aging as the simultaneous presence of three
objective outcomes, including a low probability of disease and disability, maintenance of high
physical and cognitive functioning, and continued engagement in social and productive activities
(see also Rowe & Kahn, 1998). Critics of Rowe and Kahn’s approach have argued that models of
successful aging that neglect subjective criteria (e.g., life and aging satisfaction) are incomplete
(Phelan, Anderson, Lacroix, & Larson, 2004), and that they focus too much on individual control
over objective life outcomes, thereby neglecting socioeconomic, structural, historical, and
cultural factors (Katz & Calasanti, 2015; Scheidt, Humpherys, & Yorgason, 1999; Stowe &
3. Lifespan Developmental Theories of Successful Aging
In this section, we review, compare, and critique prominent theories of successful aging
developed in the lifespan developmental literature, including the resource approach; the model of
selective optimization with compensation; the model of assimilative and accommodative coping;
the motivational theory of lifespan development; socioemotional selectivity theory; and the
strength and vulnerability integration model (see also Rudolph, 2016; Zacher, 2015b, for
reviews). Where available, we also refer to organizational research that has used these theories.
The lifespan developmental perspective was developed by psychologists starting in the 1970s
and 1980s (P. B. Baltes, Reese, & Lipsitt, 1980; Lerner & Busch-Rossnagel, 1981).
In contrast to theories in the gerontology literature, the lifespan developmental
perspective explicitly addresses the entire life span, from conception until death (P. B. Baltes,
1987). In practice, however, many studies in the lifespan developmental literature also focus only
on older (i.e., 60 years and older) and very old individuals (i.e., 85 years and older), sometimes
comparing them to samples of younger (i.e., younger than 40 years) and middle-aged adults (i.e.,
SUCCESSFUL AGING 10
40-60 years). Similar to the gerontology literature, research in the lifespan developmental
tradition typically does not focus on work behavior and the work and employment context.
Again, it is important to keep this in mind when applying lifespan theories and findings to aging
workers and the work context.
Lifespan developmental theorists generally agree that the broadest and most general
criterion for successful aging is efficiently striking a balance between losses (e.g., decreased
physical functioning, rapid processing of information, memory) and gains (e.g., increased
experience, knowledge, and emotional competencies) associated with advancing age. The
lifespan developmental perspective offered by Paul Baltes (e.g., P. B. Baltes, 1987) offers seven
organizing principles for understanding human development as a lifelong process that involves
phases of stability as well as continuous and discontinuous changes over time. Two principles of
the lifespan perspective immediately bear consideration here: Reflecting the most general
criterion for successful aging, the third principle of Baltes’ (1987) lifespan perspective suggests
that with increasing age, losses progressively outweigh gains. Additionally, Baltes’ (1987) fourth
principle suggests that each individual’s development is modifiable by both person and
contextual influences, and that this plasticity can occur at any point in the lifespan.
Following from these ideas, researchers developed several lifespan development theories
to explain how individuals more or less successfully modify their development to address age-
related losses and capitalize on age-related gains. Of note, these are generally lifespan theories of
motivation (i.e., in contrast to lifespan theories of cognitive and personality development; e.g., P.
B. Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, 1998, 2006). As theories of motivation, these theories
posit specific mechanisms for striking a balance between age-related gains and losses across the
lifespan. Thus, compared to gerontology theories of successful aging, lifespan theories are not
SUCCESSFUL AGING 11
directly theories of successful aging per se, but they rather explicate optimal mechanisms (i.e.,
modes of coping, behaviors, and mindsets) that afford one the latitude to offset experienced
losses, capitalize on gains, and thus achieve success (i.e., these theories specify various boundary
conditions that explain for whom there is more likely to be a successful loss-to-gain ratio).
3.1. Resource Approach
Resource perspectives on lifespan development (e.g., Neugarten, 1972) posit fundamental
shifts in the allocation of personal resources in service of developmental goals. Broadly, there are
three related classifications of developmental goals and associated actions that are considered by
lifespan theorists: growth, maintaining resilience, and loss regulation (Ebner, Freund, & Baltes,
2006; Freund & Ebner, 2005). Growth-related goals and their consequent actions correspond to
desires or efforts that increase levels of functioning or adaptive capacities. Maintenance-related
goals and their consequent actions correspond to desires or efforts that either maintain levels of
functioning when faced with challenges or aid in re-attaining previous levels of functioning
following the experience of loss. Finally, loss regulation goals and their consequent actions
correspond to desires or efforts that optimally organize functioning when maintenance and/or
growth are no longer possible (e.g., because of chronic resource decrements, the forfeiture of
resources, or permanent loss of functional capacities).
Proponents of the resource approach to lifespan development generally adopt the idea
that, with increasing age, the allocation of resources toward growth-related goals decreases,
whereas there are generally age-graded patterns of increasing investment of resources toward
maintaining resilience and regulating loss (Ebner et al., 2006). Neugarten (1972) suggested that a
variety of personal resources may be allocated and invested to serve growth, maintenance, and
loss-regulation goals across the lifespan (e.g., income, education, health, social networks,
SUCCESSFUL AGING 12
personal autonomy, personality traits, and cognitive functioning). With respect to successful
aging, such personal resources may have positive influences on a variety of subjective success
criteria, such as life and aging satisfaction (M. M. Baltes & Lang, 1997; Jopp & Smith, 2006).
3.2. Model of Selective Optimization with Compensation
The model of selective optimization with compensation (SOC) is a meta-theoretical
perspective on successful aging and development (P. B. Baltes & Baltes, 1990). The SOC model
suggests that successful aging and life management can be realized through the coordination of
three interrelated strategies to regulate personal goals (Freund & Baltes, 2002). Selection refers
to goal setting processes and the contextualization of goals (e.g., positioning goals within
hierarchies, aligning similarities among goals within hierarchies, and reorganizing goal
hierarchies when faced with changing needs or resources), whereas optimization and
compensation involve the direction of efforts toward goal pursuit in ways that are well matched
with one’s personal means and contextual resources. Optimization refers to various strategies
that augment the acquisition and application of goal-relevant means (e.g., investing various
resources, including allocating attention, timing, and persistence; acquiring new skills; and
modeling successful others). Optimization encompasses strategies that focus on one’s available
means, whereas compensation refers to the acquisition and application of alternative means to
maintain functioning (e.g., when other goal-relevant means are absent or unavailable). Thus,
compensation entails various strategies that counteract the experience of losses in goal-relevant
means (e.g., substituting unavailable for available resources, using external aids, seeking help
from others). A recent systematic review and meta-analysis showed that the SOC model is often
used by organizational researchers, and that SOC strategy use is positively related to job
satisfaction, engagement, and performance (Moghimi, Zacher, Scheibe, & Von Yperen, in press).
SUCCESSFUL AGING 13
3.3. Motivational Theory of Lifespan Development
The motivational theory of lifespan development (MTLD) is a lifespan theory of goal
striving, control, and self-regulation. Generally, control theories of motivation suggest that
people strive to maintain control over “behavior–event contingencies” (see Heckhausen &
Schulz, 1995, p. 285). As a lifespan control perspective on motivation, MTLD posits how
individuals maintain such control capacity when faced with the potential for developmental
losses (e.g., challenges, threats, transitions) that threaten existing levels of control capacity, and
how this process changes across the lifespan.
MTLD suggests that control-related actions (i.e., goal-relevant behaviors that augment
the maintenance of control) can take either primary or secondary forms. Heckhausen and Schulz
(1995) suggest that primary control strategies involve actions that bring the environment in line
with one’s goal-relevant needs. In contrast, secondary control strategies involve actions that
bring oneself in line with the environment. Thus, primary control strategies entail outward-
focused behavioral actions, whereas secondary control strategies entail inward-focused cognitive
(re)actions. By necessity, primary control strategies hold functional primacy over secondary
control strategies, because engaging one’s environment as a means of managing particular needs
(i.e., primary control strategies) is more adaptive than passive strategies (i.e., secondary control
strategies). In addition, the use of secondary control strategies supports control capacity when
primary control strategies fail (i.e., secondary control strategies buffer against the loss of control
capacity and can cyclically support future efforts at enacting primary control).
MTLD also makes several assumptions regarding trajectories of the use of primary and
secondary control strategies across time. The use of primary control strategies tends to conform
to an inverse U-shaped function over the lifespan (i.e., one’s capacity for primary control
SUCCESSFUL AGING 14
strategy use increases to a point, plateaus, and then decreases with advancing age). Thus,
according to MTLD, the onset of declining primary control strategy use may be an important
antecedent of successfully navigating losses in control capacity. As primary control strategy use
decreases over time, people must invest additional resources (i.e., secondary control strategy use)
to alleviate losses of control. Therefore, secondary control strategy use tends to follow a general
positive trajectory over time and can augment decreasing primary control strategy use through
various compensatory means (Heckhausen, Wrosch, & Schulz, 2010). Recently, researchers have
applied MTLD to examine individuals’ career development, coping strategies, and occupational
well-being across the working life span (Heckhausen & Shane, 2015; Hertel, Rauschenbach,
Thielgen, & Krumm, 2015).
3.4. Model of Assimilative and Accommodative Coping
A related lifespan control theory, the model of assimilative and accommodative coping
(AAC), has been advanced by Brandtstädter and Renner (1990). Similar to MTLD, AAC
explains the management of developmental challenges though two corresponding modes of
coping. Assimilative coping focuses effort on the alignment of one’s goals with the context of
their development and is characterized in terms of “tenacious goal pursuit.” Accommodative
coping characterizes the process of adjusting one’s goals to match constraining circumstances
within one’s developmental context and is characterized by “flexible goal adjustment.”
MTLD and AAC make similar predictions about how people manage developmental
change and focus on the development of adaptive coping mechanisms across the lifespan. Two
lines of distinction can be drawn between MTLD and AAC. First, MTLD is considered by many
to be a more nuanced treatment of the general dual-process coping framework (e.g., Flammer,
1995). Moreover, Heckhausen (2006) suggests that AAC is conceptually different from MTLD
SUCCESSFUL AGING 15
in that the notion of accommodative coping is viewed as a consequential action rather than as a
purposeful, intentional exercise of agency.
3.5. Socioemotional Selectivity Theory
Socioemotional selectivity theory (SST; Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles, 1999) is a
lifespan theory of motivation that is based on the notion that people possess the capacity to
actively self-contextualize the passage of their lives. More specifically, humans have an essential
consciousness of time, its meaning, and its limits. Consequently, we adjust our time horizons
(i.e., the expansiveness/open-endedness or restrictiveness/closed-endedness of time) with
advancing age. SST suggests that dynamic time horizons have implications for various
motivational and psychosocial processes, such as goal setting, emotion regulation, and social
interactions, because they provide context for these processes (Carstensen, 2006).
SST was originally introduced to explain changes in social-interactive processes across
the lifespan (Carstensen, 1987; 1991). Social interactions serve identity maintenance, emotional
regulation, and self-regulation aspects of psychological functioning (Carstensen, 1992).
Generally, there is decreasing utility in fostering new social relationships over time (i.e., as
generally observed, there are age-graded patterns of increasing emotional closeness in familiar
social relationships with a commensurate decrease in actively crafting new social relationships
with advancing age). Moreover, there are dynamics in the costs and rewards associated with
social interaction across the lifespan (i.e., investing in later-life social relationships may entail a
higher cost-to-benefit ratio due to the investment of limited social and psychological resources).
To explain these observations, SST posits that dynamic perceptions of time lead to
changes in two broad categories of goals: knowledge acquisition goals and emotional regulation
goals. SST suggests that future time perspective is one important mechanism for understanding
SUCCESSFUL AGING 16
this process. In terms of time horizons, future time perspective can be classified as either open-
ended or constrained. When time horizons are perceived to be open-ended, the highest priority
goals within one’s goal hierarchy tend to be focused on long-term knowledge acquisition (e.g.,
gaining new experiences, learning skills). When time horizons are perceived to be constrained,
the highest priority goals within one’s goal hierarchy tend to be proximal, short-term emotional
regulation goals (e.g., sustaining positive mood). Furthermore, SST suggests that one’s age (i.e.,
as a proxy for developmental changes) predicts the prioritization of different goals. This general
pattern can explain shifts in social–interactive relationships over time. As people get older, they
begin to perceive time as more finite, restricted, and constrained. Furthermore, older individuals
are less likely to attach importance to long-term acquisition goals and therefore devote more
energy toward goals from which emotional meaning can be derived.
Over the past decade, organizational researchers have frequently used SST to explain
relationships between age and work outcomes (e.g., Ng & Feldman, 2010; Scheibe & Zacher,
2013; Truxillo, Cadiz, Rineer, Zaniboni, & Fraccaroli, 2012; Wang, Burlacu, Truxillo, James, &
Yao, 2015). Moreover, a number of studies have examined predictors and outcomes of future
time perspective in the work context (e.g., Bal, de Lange, Zacher, & van der Heijden, 2013; B. B.
Baltes, Wynne, Sirabian, Krenn, & De Lange, 2014; Gielnik, Zacher, & Schmitt, 2016; Kooij,
Bal, & Kanfer, 2015; Weikamp & Göritz, 2015; Zacher, 2013; Zacher, Heusner, Schmitz,
Zwierzanska, & Frese, 2010). This research finds, for instance, that worker age is negatively and
job autonomy is positively related to (occupational) future time perspective, and that
(occupational) future time perspective is positively associated with favorable work outcomes
such as job satisfaction, work engagement, job performance, job search intensity, and growth of
SUCCESSFUL AGING 17
3.6. Strength and Vulnerability Integration Model
Aligned with SST, the strength and vulnerability integration (SAVI) model describes age-
related changes in emotional regulation capacity across the lifespan (Charles, 2010). The SAVI
model posits that age-related differences in emotion regulation outcomes vary according to the
timing of the emotion regulation process. For example, similar to SST, SAVI acknowledges that
aging is associated with increased capacities for the regulation of emotional experiences (i.e.,
increased emotion regulation skills such as attentional strategies, appraisals, and various
behaviors). This idea follows from the general finding of overall higher levels of affective well-
being with increasing age. Such emotion regulation strategies facilitate the mitigation of negative
emotional experiences while correspondingly augmenting positive emotional experiences.
Like SST, SAVI also posits that the increased use of emotion regulation strategies with
age is based on shifts in time perspectives (i.e., perceived time remaining). However, it
additionally integrates a “time lived” principle. Specifically, knowledge and accrued experiences
serve as important resources in service of successful emotional regulation. Therefore, SAVI is
complementary to SST in the recognition of the finitude of time, but also novel in the integration
of experience as an important resource for successfully regulating emotions across the lifespan.
3.7. Comparison and Critique of Theories from the Lifespan Developmental Literature
Considering the set of lifespan theories considered here (i.e., resource approach, SOC,
MTLD, AAC, SST, SAVI), common themes are apparent. For example, all of these theories
emphasize the influence of proactive agency for managing developmental challenges. This
implies that individuals are both the product and producers of their individual development
(Lerner & Busch-Rossnagel, 1981). Considering people as “active agents” underscores another
commonality that differentiates these theories from earlier gerontology theories such as
SUCCESSFUL AGING 18
disengagement theory and Rowe and Kahn’s (1987) model: each of these theories is gain focused
and approach oriented (i.e., as opposed to loss focused and avoidance oriented). Each theory
describes actions that can be used to aide maintenance or growth in various domains of
functioning. Such actions are enacted to support goal engagement or disengagement (i.e., goal
striving). Notably, both goal engagement and disengagement can at times be adaptive or
maladaptive with respect to a given developmental outcome. The resource approach suggests
that maintenance and growth are influenced by the applications of personal resources. The SOC
model suggests that this occurs via the orchestration of various action strategies (i.e., selection,
optimization, compensation). MTLD proposes that maintenance and growth are supported by the
enactment of primary and secondary control strategies. AAC suggests that goal striving is
modified by changes in sustained goal pursuit coupled with the capacity for goal flexibility. SST
suggests that this occurs via shifts in the conceptualization of time. Finally, SAVI offers that this
occurs through the application of accrued experience and skills.
Although the strengths of the lifespan perspective are apparent, there are some critiques
that can be levied against this perspective in general and against the various theories specifically.
Perhaps the most obvious concern regarding lifespan theories in general is that they tend to
poorly integrate context into explanations for developmental change. The hallmark lifespan focus
on the processes of intraindividual development (i.e., ontogenesis) often neglects extraindividual
influences of context on development (i.e., sociogenesis; Dannefer, 1984; Featherman & Lerner,
1985). As such, consequent person-by-context interactions are likewise neglected. To that end,
sociological life course perspectives and other multidisciplinary developmental frameworks are
better suited to address such predictions. For example, Lerner’s paradigm of developmental
contextualism (e.g., Lerner & Kauffman, 1985) is far more nuanced in this regard. Indeed, the
SUCCESSFUL AGING 19
explication of developmental systems theory offered by Lerner and colleagues (e.g., Ford &
Lerner, 1992) builds off of broader developmental–contextual paradigms (e.g., ecological model
of human development by Bronfenbrenner, 1979).
More specific to the notion of successful aging, the lifespan perspective offers somewhat
vague and conflicting criteria for success. Critical gerontologists and sociologists might suggest
that lifespan perspectives offer an overly positivistic view of successful aging (Fineman, 2011;
Katz & Calasanti, 2015). From this perspective, there is an inherent inconsistency present when
considering individual developmental processes against general success criteria. The argument
here is that the study of successful aging necessitates matching individual developmental
trajectories to criteria that more appropriately capture the construction of success for any given
individual rather than those that attempt to generalize success across people.
Beyond general criticisms of the lifespan perspective, criticisms of specific lifespan
theories can also be offered. The resource approach is limited by the fact that the definition of
resources is quite broad. Indeed, almost anything can be construed as a resource to the extent that
it offsets losses. One could argue that this is perhaps an overly broad view, however it is also
paradoxically narrow in its failure to recognize that personal resources are often complimented
by external or structural resources that work in tandem with personal resources (e.g., “resource
caravans”; Hobfoll, 1988). Likewise, one assumption of the SOC model follows something like,
“if a little is good, then more must be better.” For example, engaging in more of any given SOC
strategy (e.g., compensation) is assumed to be adaptively advantageous. This idea may be
unreasonable for a variety of reasons, but perhaps most notably, such action strategies are
inherently resource intensive (i.e., energy depleting) and may propagate losses in other domains
SUCCESSFUL AGING 20
(e.g., social relationships, if compensation is accomplished via over-reliance on help from close
The MTLD can be critiqued via a comparison to other action-phase control theories of
motivation (e.g., Carver & Scheier, 1982; see Zacher, Hacker, & Frese, 2016, for a review and
integration). For example, the comparator mechanism linking feedback to goal revision and
subsequent (re)action is not well explicated by MTLD. Additionally, AAC neglects the role of
proactivity in one’s mapping of their own developmental course (e.g., planning and forethought),
suggesting that people act as reactive agents when faced with developmental challenges. Finally,
SST can be criticized for ignoring the role of accumulated experience (hence, the emergence of
the SAVI model), however the SAVI model can likewise be criticized for its relatively narrow
focus on successfully navigating experiences that require emotion regulation.
4. Successful Aging at Work
In this section, we introduce and critically compare three conceptualizations of successful
aging at work that were developed in the organizational literature (for a review of aging theories
and modern work perspective, see B. B. Baltes, Rudolph, & Bal, 2012).
4.1. Criteria and Strategies for Successful Aging at Work (Robson and Hansson)
About a decade ago, Robson, Hansson, and colleagues published two articles in which
they proposed a number of criteria and strategies for successful aging at work. The first article
focused on “criteria older workers use to evaluate their success in aging in the workplace”
(Robson, Hansson, Abalos, & Booth, 2006, p. 156). To identify these criteria, Robson and
colleagues (2006) administered a survey to 201 workers, asking them to indicate the personal
importance of 101 items written to reflect 18 content domains. The content domains were based
on a review of the literatures on older workers, careers, occupational psychology, and successful
SUCCESSFUL AGING 21
aging (e.g., health-related concerns, financial security, need to adapt to age-related changes,
access to training, potential for continued career development). A factor analysis of the data
resulted in five distinct criteria for successful aging at work: (a) adaptability and health, (b)
positive relationships, (c) occupational growth, (d) personal security, and (e) continued focus and
achievement of personal goals. Robson and colleagues (2006) found that “continued focus and
achievement of personal goals” and “adaptability and health” were rated as most important by
participants, followed by “personal security,” “occupational growth,” and “personal
relationships.” Of the five dimensions, only occupational growth was negatively related to age.
Finally, all five dimensions were positively related to workers’ self-perceptions of successful
aging (i.e., ratings of how well they had aged compared to their same-aged peers), with
correlations ranging from r = .25 for “personal security” to r = .43 for “adaptability and health.”
In their second article, Robson and Hansson (2007) focused on the behavioral strategies
workers use to age successfully at work. They conducted two studies with 265 participants. The
first study was conducted to develop items based on strategies for successful aging reported by
64 workers between 23 and 61 years. In the second study, 201 workers rated the frequency with
which they typically used various successful aging strategies. Results of factor analyses
suggested seven dimensions: (a) relationship development, (b) ensuring security, (c) continuous
learning, (d) stress relief, (e) skill extension, (f) career management, and (g) conscientiousness.
All seven strategies were positively related to workers’ self-perceptions of successful aging at
work. Worker age moderated the relationships of relationship development and skill extension
with perceived success such that these strategies were less strongly related to perceived success
among older compared to younger workers.
SUCCESSFUL AGING 22
In a series of cross-sectional studies with older workers, Cheung and Wu (2012, 2013a,
2013b, 2013c) used Robson and Hansson’s measures to research successful aging at work. For
example, they showed that perceived organizational support, social support from friends and
family, and identification as an “older worker” were positively associated with indicators of
successful aging at work. Moreover, successful aging at work was found to relate positively to
favourable work outcomes among older workers, such as job satisfaction and intentions to stay in
4.2. Working Definition and Framework of Successful Aging at Work (Zacher)
Based on successful aging research in the fields of gerontology and lifespan
developmental psychology, Zacher (2015b) proposed a working definition and theoretical
framework of successful aging at work. He identified four themes relevant for successful aging
at work in these literatures. Specifically, research on successful aging at work should focus on
both subjective and objective work outcomes valued by employees and organizations (criteria
for successful aging at work), investigate age-related mediators that, by themselves and in
combination, explain associations between age and work outcomes (explanatory mechanisms),
examine how person and/or contextual factors interact with employee age in predicting
mediators and work outcomes, such that they explain more variance among older compared to
young employees (facilitating and constraining factors), and develop and test assumptions about
intraindividual age-related changes in criteria over time and across the working lifespan
(temporal patterns). Based on these themes, Zacher (2015b) proposed that employees are aging
successfully at work if they deviate in increasingly positive ways from average developmental
trajectories of favorable subjective and objective work outcomes across the working lifespan. In
contrast, employees are aging unsuccessfully if their trajectories deviate in increasingly negative
SUCCESSFUL AGING 23
ways from average trajectories of favorable work outcomes across the working lifespan. Thus,
Zacher’s (2015b) definition of successful aging at work requires a comparison of an employee’s
unique intraindividual age-related trajectory of a work outcome over time with the average of all
other employees’ trajectories of the same work outcome (“usual aging”; Rowe & Kahn, 1987).
Similar to Rowe and Kahn’s (1997) model, the differences in intraindividual trajectories of work
outcomes that emerge over time between employees may be explained by facilitating and
constraining person and/or contextual factors and their interactions.
In Zacher’s (2015b) theoretical framework, person and contextual moderators influence
the direction and strength of direct associations of age with person and contextual mediators, and
of indirect associations of age with important subjective and objective work outcomes through
these mediators. For instance, the engagement in continuous learning strategies may strengthen
the positive relationship of age with job knowledge, which, in turn, is positively related to job
performance. Another example is that job autonomy weakens the negative relationship between
age and caregiving demands, with better management of caregiving demands resulting in
increased occupational well-being. Zacher’s (2015b) working definition of successful aging at
work is illustrated in Figure 1. The patterns depicted in Panels A, B, and C show developmental
patterns of successful/unsuccessful aging at work. The difference between the patterns is that the
average age-related trend in Panel A is zero (e.g., relationship between age and task
performance; Ng & Feldman, 2008), the average trend in Panel B is negative (e.g., relationship
between age and satisfaction with promotion; Ng & Feldman, 2010), and the average trend in
Panel C is positive (e.g., relationship between age and work satisfaction; Ng & Feldman, 2010).
In contrast, patterns with parallel slopes would not represent successful/unsuccessful aging at
work, because those patterns do not involve an age × person/contextual moderator interaction (or
SUCCESSFUL AGING 24
a pattern of differential preservation; Salthouse, 2006). Moreover, patterns in which person
and/or contextual moderators explain more variance in the work outcome among young
compared to older employees also do not represent successful/unsuccessful aging at work (see
4.3. The Active Role of Employees in Successful Aging at Work (Kooij)
Kooij (2015b) outlined a theoretical perspective on successful aging at work that focuses
on proactive employee behaviors, the fit between employees and their jobs, and the effective and
sustainable management of personal resources. Kooij (2015b) emphasizes that employees play
an active role in terms of maintaining their health, motivation, and workability in their present
and future work lives. Specifically, Kooij (2015b) assumes that the engagement in self-initiated,
active, and change-oriented behaviors, in particular proactive person–job fit and proactive career
behaviors (cf. Parker & Collins, 2010), positively predicts a continuous person–job fit.
Furthermore, Kooij (2015b) argues that the effect of a continuous person–job fit on the
maintenance of health, motivation, and work ability is mediated by employees’ effective
management of their personal resources (i.e., preservation and regeneration of resources).
4.4. Comparison and Critique of Approaches to Successful Aging at Work
In a critical commentary, Zacher (2015a) compared and partially integrated his working
definition and theoretical framework with Robson and Hansson’s and Kooij’s conceptualizations
(see Kooij, 2015a, for a reply). There are a number of similarities between the three approaches.
First, by incorporating the use of proactive, action-regulatory strategies in their
conceptualizations, Robson and Hansson, Zacher, and Kooij agree in assuming an active role of
employees in the process of successful aging at work. Moreover, by incorporating age as a
central variable, all conceptualizations take a developmental perspective on successful aging at
SUCCESSFUL AGING 25
work. Finally, while Robson and Hansson largely neglect contextual factors and work outcomes,
Zacher and Kooij both propose that interactions between age-related person and contextual
factors, and dynamic person–environment fit, influence important work outcomes such as
motivation, workability, and occupational health.
To highlight differences between the three approaches, Zacher (2015a) emphasized the
importance of a precise definition, comprehensive model, and critical discussion of successful
aging at work. First, with regard to definitional issues, Zacher (2015b) criticized the absence of
an age × person/contextual moderator interaction (or a pattern of differential preservation;
Salthouse, 2006) in Robson and Hansson as well as Kooij’s conceptualizations of successful
aging at work. This is problematic because it may suggest that employees can age successfully at
work at a single point in time or across relatively short time periods, independent of age. Put
differently, Robson and Hansson as well as Kooij do not sufficiently distinguish between the
process and outcomes of successful aging at work (see also Cheng, 2014). In contrast, Zacher
(2015b) argued that personal and contextual resources, such as proactive behaviors and
“successful aging strategies,” must have age-differential effects on work outcomes (and explain
more variance among older compared to young employees) to be considered resources for
successful aging at work. Based on this definition, none of the behavioral strategies identified by
Robson and Hansson (2007) could be described as “successful aging strategies,” because they
either did not interact with age in predicting work outcomes, or because they explained more
variance in work outcomes among young compared to older employees. However, it could also
be argued that the age × person/contextual moderator interaction criterion is too strict (Zacher,
2015a), as significant interaction effects are often difficult to detect and replicate.
SUCCESSFUL AGING 26
Second, Zacher (2015a) argued that Robson and Hansson as well as Kooij did not present
comprehensive models of successful aging at work, because they focused primarily on personal
factors (i.e., proactive behaviors and successful aging strategies) and neglected contextual factors
as drivers of successful aging at work, did not consider multiple levels of person–environment fit
(e.g., person–organization fit), and focused on a narrow range of work outcomes (i.e.,
motivation, health, and work ability; Kooij, 2015b). In contrast, Zacher’s (2015b) framework is
sufficiently broad to incorporate various contextual factors, multiple forms of person-
environment fit, as well as a range of important subjective and objective work outcomes.
However, this strength of Zacher’s (2015b) framework could also be considered a weakness, as it
does not provide researchers with guidance regarding specific variables to measure in empirical
Finally, Zacher (2015a) emphasized the importance of a critical perspective on successful
aging at work, which has so far been largely neglected in the organizational literature. Similarly,
Fineman (2011) wrote that
“There is no shortage of research of a positivist nature that takes age as a variable to
associate with, or predict, some personal, organizational, career, or societal outcome, a
stream of inquiry that has a long history. Some of this work has been helpful, but less so
than critical aging studies and critical gerontology—most of which is informed by a fairly
small cadre of researchers. It is here that much of the qualitative, social constructionist
work has taken place” (p. 3).
Critical aging studies and critical gerontology analyze the power relations underlying the
perceptions and treatment of older adults and can be used to better understand the role of age in
the work context (cf. Thomas, Hardy, Cutcher, & Ainsworth, 2014).
SUCCESSFUL AGING 27
To initiate a critical discussion in the field of work and aging, Zacher (2015a) drew on
and summarized some of the criticisms of the notion of successful aging in the critical
gerontology literature to highlight the potential problem of focusing only on the active role of
employees, including personal choice, responsibility, and self-reliance, for successful aging at
work. For instance, Katz and Calasanti (2015) wrote:
“Where successful aging research conceives of health advantages and disadvantages as
the results of individual responsibility…, it fails to acknowledge social relations of
power, environmental determinants of health, and the biopolitics of health inequalities.
Indeed, lifestyle and individual volition fit a contemporary consumerist, neoliberal, and
entrepreneurial style of thought that dominates health and retirement politics” (p. 4).
Similarly, other critical gerontologists have argued that assigning responsibility for successful
aging primarily to individual workers is consistent with neoliberal politics of minimizing public
support (Dillaway & Byrnes, 2009; Rozanova, 2010). Moreover, this perspective may have
negative consequences for those older adults who are not aging successfully in terms of how they
are treated by colleagues, medical practitioners, and policy makers (Katz & Calasanti, 2015).
Some researchers have even suggested that the notion of successful aging may become a means
of blaming, marginalizing, excluding, and stigmatizing less fortunate older adults—a reason to
deprive vulnerable older people of social benefits and age-based welfare entitlements, and a
factor contributing to weakened norms of social solidarity (Moody, 2001).
In addition, and as noted earlier, critical gerontologists have argued that
conceptualizations that assume an active role and individual responsibility for successful aging
neglect that choices and lifestyle behaviors are associated with resources closely linked to social
class, structural inequalities, and cumulative advantages and disadvantages (Katz & Calasanti,
SUCCESSFUL AGING 28
2015; Rozanova, 2010). Thus, successful aging may be seen as an exclusionary concept, because
the experience of success would be restricted to relatively few privileged members of society.
Moreover, Dillaway and Byrnes (2009) cautioned that it can be highly problematic if those who
have the material and social resources to age successfully are used to suggest that, in principle,
everyone is able to maintain high levels of health and productivity, if they only make the right
lifestyle choices, invest effort, and show responsibility. A potential downside of such neoliberal
thinking is that it may be assumed that those individuals who are not aging successfully do not
deserve public support because they were not active enough and did not invest enough effort.
Finally, an emphasis on individual responsibility for successful and unsuccessful aging
may suggest that all experiences of ill-health, disability, lack of productivity, and dependence on
others should be considered failures in living well (Lamb, 2014). Critical gerontologists have
argued that the dichotomy of success versus failure that is part of the many approaches to
successful aging does not adequately capture the diversity and deeper meaning of the aging
experience (Katz & Calasanti, 2015). Moreover, it has been suggested that the concept may
backfire and discriminate against older adults because it may lead them to “define normal aging
processes more negatively than they might have without the influence of successful aging
discourse…” (Dillaway & Byrnes, 2009, p. 7).
In summary, the concept of successful aging was initially introduced and popularized to
challenge age discriminatory notions of universal age-related decline and to take a more positive
perspective on the aging process, especially with regard to older adults’ work ability (Butler &
Gleason, 1985; Havighurst, 1961; Rowe & Kahn, 1987). However, successful aging advocates
often neglect that individual efforts are not sufficient to fight age discrimination and that political
actions are needed to do so (Fineman, 2014). Thus, to prevent a one-sided focus on active
SUCCESSFUL AGING 29
strategies for successful aging (e.g., job crafting; Kooij, Tims, & Kanfer, 2015), researchers
should also consider other person factors (e.g., gender, health, socioeconomic status) and
contextual factors (e.g., social network; geographical, economic, sociopolitical, and cultural
context) that may also influence successful aging at work, as well as potential contingencies that
may strengthen or weaken the influence of proactive behaviors. In other words, a comprehensive
model of successful aging at work should not only include proactive behaviors, but also other
person and contextual factors as predictors, as well as boundary conditions of the age-differential
effects of proactive behaviors on work outcomes (Zacher, 2015b). Otherwise, organizational
practitioners may assume that those employees who experience age-related declines in health,
motivation, and work ability are, to a great extent, personally responsible for these
developments, as they did not engage sufficiently in proactive behaviors to mitigate such
declines (e.g., job crafting). However, it is important for organizational practitioners to recognize
that, in many jobs, actively changing the job through proactive strategies such as job crafting
may not be possible.
5. Implications for Future Research and Conclusion
In this chapter, we reviewed several theories of successful aging from the gerontology,
lifespan development, and organizational literatures. In this concluding section, we go back to
the questions from the introduction section: what does “success” mean in the contexts of aging
and work? What is meant by aging and what time frame is necessary to observe aging in the
work context? Why are some workers aging successfully, whereas other workers are aging
First, the theories we reviewed differ in how they define success in the context of aging.
Although early gerontology theories such as activity and disengagement theories focus on
SUCCESSFUL AGING 30
subjective well-being, later theories focused on more objective outcomes such as the probability
of diseases and disability (Rowe & Kahn, 1997) or both subjective and objective criteria (e.g.,
SOC and MTLD). In the work domain, Robson and colleagues (2006) developed their own
(subjective) criteria, whereas Zacher (2015b) and Kooij (2015b) focus on established work
outcomes such as work motivation, job performance, and occupational well-being. Future
research needs to clearly define and justify the criteria used to investigate successful aging at
work, and ideally include both subjective (e.g., job satisfaction) and objective outcomes (e.g.,
supervisor-rated job performance, turnover).
Second, the theories also differ with regard to how they incorporate and conceptualize the
“aging” part of successful aging. Whereas early gerontology theories focused exclusively on
older and very old adults and largely neglected earlier phases in the lifespan, later lifespan
developmental approaches (i.e., SOC, MTLD, SST, SAVI) focus on the entire adult lifespan. In
the work domain, Zacher (2015b) adopted Salthouse’s (2006) notion of “differential
preservation” and argued that successful aging is demonstrated by an interaction between age
and person and contextual resources, such that a greater amount of variance in work outcomes is
explained for older than for younger workers. In contrast, the approaches by Robson and
Hansson (2007) as well as Kooij (2015b) do not require such interactive effects (even though
implicitly they also adopt a developmental approach). Future research on successful aging at
work needs to specify the roles of age and aging and how they interact with various resources.
Third, the theories differ with regard to the mechanisms that lead to successful aging,
including the active maintenance of social relationships (activity theory), withdrawal from
society (disengagement theory), continuance of previous activities and relationships (continuity
theory), personal resources (resource approach), action regulation strategies (SOC, MTLD,
SUCCESSFUL AGING 31
AAC; Kooij, 2015b; Robson & Hansson, 2007), future time perspective (SST, SAVI),
accumulated experience (SOC; SAVI), and broadly defined personal and contextual resources
(Zacher, 2015b). Thus, most theories propose very specific individual characteristics as
mechanisms, whereas Zacher’s (2015b) approach includes broadly defined contextual
mechanisms and therefore may be seen as too unspecific and thus difficult to test empirically.
Future research should develop process models of successful aging at work that include specific
individual and contextual mechanisms.
Finally, we believe that future research should adopt a more critical stance on the topic of
successful aging at work. Although researchers who investigate the propositions of prominent
lifespan developmental theories such as SOC and SST have mostly adopted a rather uncritical,
positivist approach, critical gerontologists (e.g., Katz & Calasanti, 2015) have undertaken more
nuanced analyses of the successful aging concept. In the organizational literature, Thomas et al.
(2014) recently observed the lack of critical research on aging and work and suggested that
discussions of successful aging are informed by neoliberal thinking that requires older adults to
take more responsibility for their health and well-being, employment security, and pension and
welfare provision in later life. These researchers also noted that many discussions of successful
aging suggest that aging does not lead to losses and decline in functioning if individuals invest
enough effort, while in reality health and effective functioning are influenced by factors beyond
individuals’ control (e.g., genetics, socioeconomic factors). We concur with Thomas and
colleagues (2014) that future research on successful aging should not only focus on individual
resources such as strategies for successful aging but also on contextual factors from different
conceptual levels (e.g., job, team, family, organization, society). Moreover, we encourage
SUCCESSFUL AGING 32
researchers to consider the effects of discourses on age and successful aging on older workers’
views of themselves, their attitudes, and functioning at work and beyond.
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SUCCESSFUL AGING 45
Overview of Theories on Successful Aging (at Work)
Older adults who actively maintain
personal relationships are more
satisfied in later life.
Theory neglects individual differences
in health, socioeconomic status, and
age-related changes in needs;
influenced by neoliberal thinking and a
Older adults and society should
mutually withdraw from each other
to enable inward-focused reflection
in the context of impending death.
Theory is overly person centered and
prescriptive; age-related changes are
not unidirectional and universal.
Most older adults maintain activities
and relationships from previous life
Theory neglects the roles of social
institutions and socioeconomic
By changing their lifestyle in
positive ways, individuals can lower
their probability of disease and
disability, maintain high physical and
cognitive functioning, and continue
to be engaged in social and
Model neglects subjective criteria for
successful aging, and focuses too
much on individual control over
objective life outcomes, thus
neglecting socioeconomic, structural,
historical, and cultural factors.
With advancing age, individuals
increasingly experience functional
losses relative to gains. Investments
of personal resources can offset the
experience of loss.
Definition of resources is quite broad;
approach fails to recognize that
personal resources are often
complimented by external/structural
SUCCESSFUL AGING 46
Use of selection,
To offset age-related losses,
individuals need to invest effort in
adaptive SOC strategies to re-
balance the gain-loss ratio.
Model neglects that action strategies
are inherently resource-intensive (i.e.,
energy depleting), and may propagate
losses in other domains.
Successful aging is achieved through
the optimization of primary (attempts
to influence the environment) and
secondary control strategies
(attempts to adapt oneself to the
In comparison to other action-phase
control theories of motivation, the
comparator mechanism linking
feedback to goal revision and
subsequent (re)action is not well
explicated in this theory.
Successful aging is achieved via two
largely reactive goal-relevant modes:
tenacious goal pursuit (attempts to
influence the environment) and
flexible goal adjustment (attempts to
adapt oneself to the environment).
Model neglects the role of proactivity
in individuals’ mapping of their own
developmental course (e.g., planning
and forethought), suggesting that
people act as reactive agents when
faced with developmental challenges.
With increasing age, future time
perspective shift from expansive to
restrictive; this leads people to invest
greater resources in emotionally
positive and meaningful goals
compared to instrumental and
Theory neglects the role of
accumulated experience in predicting
changes in life goals.
SUCCESSFUL AGING 47
With increasing age, future time
perspective shifts from expansive to
restrictive, and experiences accrue
(i.e., "time lived"). At the same time,
people experience detrimental
changes in physiological functioning.
These patterns of reorganization lead
to both strengths (e.g., increased
emotion regulation capacity) and
vulnerabilities (e.g., stress response).
Model has a relatively narrow focus on
successfully navigating experiences
that require emotion regulation.
Robson et al.
Workers can use strategies (e.g.,
relationship development, continuous
learning, stress-relief) to attain
successful aging criteria (e.g.,
adaptability and health, positive
relationships, personal security).
Approach neglects the process of
successful aging at work; strategies for
successful aging are less useful for
older compared to younger employees.
Workers are aging successfully at
work if they deviate in increasingly
positive ways from average
developmental trajectories of
favorable subjective and objective
work outcomes across the working life
Specific person and contextual resources
as well as work outcomes are not
defined; framework is too broad to be
empirically testable. Age ×
person/contextual moderator interaction
criterion may be considered too strict, as
significant interaction effects are often
difficult to detect and replicate.
The active role
of employees in
at work (Kooij)
Proactive behaviors lead to a
continuous person-job fit which in
turn, influences the maintenance of
health, motivation, and work ability.
Approach neglects contextual factors
and does not require an interaction
between age and proactive behaviors.
SUCCESSFUL AGING AT WORK: A CRITICAL PERSPECTIVE 48
Schematic illustrations of Zacher’s (2015) definition of successful, usual, and unsuccessful aging
Note. Solid lines represent age-related trajectories at high levels of a moderator variable
(successful aging at work), dotted lines represent average age-related trajectories (usual aging at
work), and dashed lines represent age-related trajectories at low levels of a moderator variable
(unsuccessful aging at work).
SUCCESSFUL AGING AT WORK: A CRITICAL PERSPECTIVE 49
SUCCESSFUL AGING AT WORK: A CRITICAL PERSPECTIVE 50
Hannes Zacher is Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology at the University of
Leipzig, Germany, and Adjunct Professor at Queensland University of Technology, Australia.
He received his M.S. from the Technical University of Braunschweig and his Ph.D. from the
University of Giessen. In his research program, Hannes investigates aging at work, career
development, and occupational well-being; proactivity, innovation, and entrepreneurship; and
pro-environmental employee behavior. His research has been published in journals such as the
Journal of Organizational Behavior, Journal of Management, and Psychology and Aging. He is
an associate editor of Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology and currently
serves on the editorial boards of Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Journal of
Vocational Behavior, Group & Organization Management, and Work, Aging and Retirement.
Cort W. Rudolph is an assistant professor of Industrial & Organizational Psychology at Saint
Louis University. He received a BA from DePaul University, and a MA and Ph.D. from Wayne
State University. Cort’s research focuses on a variety of issues related to the aging workforce,
including the application of lifespan developmental perspectives, wellbeing and work-longevity,
and ageism. His research has been published in journals such as the Journal of Occupational
Health Psychology, the Journal of Gerontology, and Human Resources Management
Review. Cort serves on the editorial boards of Work, Aging and Retirement, the Journal of
Vocational Behavior, and the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.