Understanding well-being among retirees experiencing late-life unemployment
Links to Fileshttp://library.towson.edu/digital/collection/etd/id/65949/
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Voss, Maren Wright
Type of Workapplication/pdf
x, 156 pages
DepartmentTowson University. Department of Occupational Therapy and Occupational Science
This study examines the role of paid work as a form of occupational engagement, with consequent impacts on health, particularly as activity patterns shift during the transition to retirement. Occupational engagement is viewed here as a necessary element of health and wellness generally, but the impact of lost work opportunity and the occupational deprivations it incurs are likely to have individual level influences. A phenomenological theoretical approach was taken in the analysis of work transitions during the pre- and post- retirement years to gain an individual level perspective on the challenges of occupational deprivation that might compromise health. Occupational theory posits that episodes of occupational deprivation will result in negative effects on well-being. The latent benefits of work theory describes mechanisms by which lost work opportunity can have detrimental effects, as changes in time-use and lost opportunities for meaningful engagement result in a loss of socially endorsed identity. Lost work opportunity has been demonstrated to have a negative impact on physical and mental health. Similarly, early and involuntary retirement have been linked to poorer physical and mental health outcomes. It can be difficult to define either involuntary retirement or unemployment late in life, particularly when retirement benefits are procured after a job has been involuntarily terminated. Existing literature does not adequately capture the occupational deprivation of late-life job loss on the health and wellness of individuals approaching the retirement years. A mixed methods analysis was conducted using an explanatory sequential model in appreciation of the complexity of the question of how unemployment impacts the health and well-being of older adults. Quantitative analysis was conducted using the Health and Retirement Study. The total number of months of unemployment experienced between 2000-2012 were calculated for each individual. Unemployment months were regressed with demographic and baseline health measures to assess the relationship with health during retirement. Qualitative interviewing was conducted to assess the sociological factors that influence the relationship between lost work opportunity and retirement health, including information about retirement timing, time-use in retirement, and personal sense of control in life course events. Qualitative interviews were analyzed for relevant themes and interpretations were integrated with the quantitative findings. A total of 529 (6.5%) of individuals in the HRS sample (N=8,099) had experienced late-life unemployment after the age of 50, with an average of 17.5 months (SD=15.76). Late-life unemployment had no significant effect on self-reported physical health (ß=.0015, p=0.376) but was significantly associated with lower levels of mental health (ß=.0091; p<.01). Qualitative interviewing revealed high levels of reported stress during the episode of unemployment, followed by resiliency and a return to prior happiness levels. Individuals with late-life unemployment had much higher levels of involuntary retirement timing (between 47-57% compared to 15-28% for those with stable employment). Concepts of productivity and meaningful engagement shift during the retirement years. In quantitative analysis of the HRS I found a direct negative effect of late-life unemployment on mental health (CES-D scores) in retirement, but no significant effect on self-reported physical health or number of chronic health conditions. Qualitative interviews revealed that 1/6 of individuals experiencing a forced removal from their employment just prior to retirement did not classify this work displacement as unemployment. This suggests there is likely error in the measurement of unemployment that is available in the quantitative public dataset. Qualitative interviews identified strong themes of resilience in the face of unemployment challenges as well as a preference for choice in time-use over money during the retirement years. It may be necessary to redefine productive or meaningful engagement in the occupational balance models when they are applied to the retirement years.