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Life Course Antecedents of Older Adult Health and Well-being
One theme of my research is the life course antecedents of older adult health and well-being. My goal is to assess the impact of life course statuses, transitions, and trajectories on a variety of health and well-being outcomes, from self-reports to physical measures and biomarkers. My key publications in this area focus on individuals over time. Considering that many individuals spend roughly half of their life working and a quarter in retirement, and that promoting longer working lives is one of the most frequent proposals to address the challenges of population aging, I have devoted special attention to understand the health consequence of work status, retirement transitions, and late life labor force trajectories. I have also explored the health consequences of moving decisions. This thread of my research largely draws on quasi-experimental designs and analytic approaches to distinguish causal effects from non-causal correlations and overcome other methodological problems encountered in life course analyses of social determinants of health. These methodological efforts are critical to successfully translate observational research into effective policy and interventions.
My findings underscore the need for future research to develop a more complex view of life course antecedents of older adult health. Specifically, the effects of work and retirement are complex and can be both beneficial and detrimental to health. The effects vary by health outcome, location in the health trajectory, specific characteristics of the retirement transition, employment quality, SES, and cross-nationally. Overall, workers who are forced into retirement or begin their retirement transition before cultural and institutional timetables tend to experience the worst functional, mental, and physical health outcomes. These results highlight the role of institutional policies and cultural norms in shaping health effects of retirement timing. They also suggest that we need more theorizing on the characteristics of the work to retirement transition, as the effects vary depending both on timing (earlier/on time/later) and perceived control (voluntary/forced). The speed (gradual/abrupt), anticipation (expected/unexpected), and synchronicity with other life changes (focal/overlapping) seem to be characteristics of life course transitions that are less influential for retirement than for other life course transitions, such as adolescence or parenthood. My results suggest that future research should reframe the often asked question about whether retirement is good or bad for health—something that would be odd to ask about adolescence—, to inquiring about the specific characteristics of the transition and their effect on specific health indicators, considering differences across groups and countries and the evolution of health consequences over time.
My current projects in this area focus on the cross-national impact of work and retirement transitions and late-life labor force sequences on objective health outcomes, including mortality, cognitive tests, physical measures, and biomarkers. In the long-term, I envision my research shifting the focus from more immediate life course antecedents of health issues among older adults to earlier antecedents of health, with particular attention to cognitive functioning, functional dependency, and depressive symptomatology.