Highlights of the American Psychological Association 114th Annual Convention

August 10-13, 2006; New Orleans, Louisiana

Joshua Fogel, PhD


November 30, 2006

In This Article

Aging and Work

Coping Strategies

Lindsey M. Young, MA, PhD candidate, Department of Psychology, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, discussed the interplay of aging and work-family issues.[6] Older employees engage in certain coping behaviors at work, such as avoiding tasks or delegating responsibility when the project interferes with family life. They also use the selection, optimization, and compensation approach to reduce stressors[7]:

  • Selection -- choose from the variety of options to best maximize one's personal goals;

  • Optimization -- acquire the necessary skills to achieve these goals; and

  • Compensation -- invest resources so that one can counteract any transient or permanent losses or decline that occur.

Employed Elder-Care Providers

Ms. Young also addressed the issue of elder care for family members, a common concern facing older workers, whether the individual who is being cared for is a spouse or parent. She stated that more than half of employed elder-care providers miss an average of 9 hours of work each month. These employees experience stress and frustration[8] and have lower productivity and higher work-site accident rates.[9]

Men vs Women: Differences in Elder Care

There are gender differences in how elder care is addressed. Men reduce the elder care provided, whereas women reduce their work commitments.[10] Men tend to provide instrumental assistance, such as lawn mowing and financial assistance, whereas women provide assistance with activities of daily living, such as feeding and bathing. Ms. Young emphasized that many organizations view elder care as an individual problem; however, organizations would, in theory, retain and attract older employees if they created programs and considered policies that provided work-family balance.

Work and Self-esteem

Harvey L. Sterns, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Akron, Akron, Ohio, discussed the relationship of work-life conflict (WLC) with self-esteem.[11] He mentioned 2 types of self-esteem:

  • Global self-esteem (GSE) -- how individuals perceive themselves in general; and

  • Organizational-based self-esteem (OBSE) -- self-worth that is based on the organizational context.

He also described 2 types of WLC:

  • Those due to relationship demands, such as one's spouse or partner; and

  • Those due to leisure demands, ie, enjoyable activities.

Dr. Sterns surveyed 263 middle-aged full-time and part-time college faculty. Women reported more WLCs for leisure demands than men. For both the full-time and part-time faculty, an increase in GSE was associated with:

  • Decreased overall WLC;

  • Decreased WLC due to relationship demands; and

  • Decreased WLC due to leisure demands.

Similarly, full-time faculty, with increased OBSE, had decreased overall WLC, decreased WLC due to relationship demands, and decreased WLC due to leisure demands. However, for part-time faculty, increased OBSE was only significantly associated with decreased WLC due to relationship demands. Additional analyses including both GSE and OBSE in the model revealed that for full-time faculty, only OBSE was significantly related to each of the WLC outcomes, whereas for part-time faculty, only GSE was significantly related to WLC outcomes. Dr. Sterns suggested that increased self-esteem is associated with better WLC coping, and the type of self-esteem that improves coping strategies in the work setting may depend on whether someone works full- or part-time.

Work Status and Depression

Jacquelyn B. James, PhD, Director of Research, Boston College Center for Work & Family, Boston, Massachusetts, discussed the relationship of work status to depressive symptoms over a 12-year time period.[12] She used data from the 7 waves of the Health and Retirement Survey Data collected from 1992 to 2004.[13] This sample consisted of individuals aged 51-61 at the first wave -- 79% white, 17% black, and 4% other race/ethnicity.

Dr. James identified 6 different cluster patterns for the data.[12] Of these 6 clusters, those with the highest depression at baseline (n = 509) had depressive symptoms increasing over time in the shape of an inverted U curve. These individuals were retired and had the following characteristics:

  • Lowest education;

  • Lowest self-rated health status;

  • Lowest income;

  • Most problems with activities of daily living;

  • Single;

  • Black or Hispanic; and

  • High morbidity.

The cluster with the lowest depression at baseline (n = 3647) had very little increases in depression over time. These individuals were:

  • Working full-time;

  • Highly educated;

  • Affluent;

  • White;

  • Men;

  • Married;

  • In good health;

  • Less likely to smoke;

  • More likely to drink but less than 1 drink per day; and

  • More likely to serve or have served in the military.

Dr. James concluded that depressive symptoms change over time in different ways for different individuals. The depression extremes are influenced by socioeconomic status and show the effects of cumulative disadvantage or advantage. She stated that the ability to work, good health, and marriage are important buffers for preventing depressive symptoms among the elderly.

Psychological Adjustment Among Older Workers

David L. Blustein, PhD, Professor, Department of Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology, Boston College, Boston, Massachusetts, discussed the interface of the psychology of working and aging.[14] He emphasized that the current generation often has the ability to choose careers, something that many of their parents did not do and that even today, those from many regions of the world still cannot do.

Dr. Blustein proposed that there are 3 different needs to be addressed for successful psychological adjustment among older workers:

  • The need for survival and power: For example, older workers often lose access to sources of survival and power when they retire or shift to part-time status;

  • The need for social connections: For example, work provides a place for direct contact with others; and

  • The need for self-determination: For example, work can become boring, and successful adjustment occurs when one acquires intrinsic motivation to self-determine how work will affect oneself.


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