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Volume 16, Issue 2 - June 2016

Job characteristics are recurring theme at April workshop

As people live longer, longer careers become more desirable on personal and national bases. But what makes a job “sustainable?” Five of the 30 projects presented at MRRC’s workshop, held April 15 & 16, 2016, at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, delved into how job characteristics inform older workers’ decisions to stay in the labor force.

On Friday, MRRC Assistant Director Dmitriy Stolyarov chaired the section “Job Characteristics and Older Workers,” which included four of the five presentations. Erik Meijer’s project with Dawoon Jung and Jinkook Lee, “Heterogeneous Effects of Retirement on Cognitive Decline by Occupation,” pointed out that most previous work has found that retirement is not good for cognition. He also cited work (e.g., Ball et al., 2002; Verghese et al., 2003; Rebok et al, 2014) on brain jogging that found that cognitively demanding activities led to slower decline. Meijer and his team are exploring the idea that since blue-collar work is less cognitively demanding than white-collar work, retiring would lead to larger cognitive declines for white-collar workers unless leisure activities compensated one-for-one for work activities. Using Health and Retirement Study (HRS) data (waves 3-11), the group will look at cognitive levels or changes measured by total word recall, retirement status/years since retirement, and whether retirement may be endogenous.

So far, the team’s early descriptive stats and simple ordinary least squares suggest support for their hypothesis, but once they add fixed effects, changes scores, and instrumental variables, those effects become small and statistically insignificant. Among other things, the researchers next want to look endogeneity of leisure activities, as well as adding other cognition variables and self-reported job characteristics from the HRS Core and leave-behind questionnaires.

Kathleen Mullen, David Powell, and Jeffrey Wenger presented three parts of a project that looks at the potential disconnect between jobs offered to older workers and jobs they are willing and able to do. Mullen discussed results from the group’s first American Working Conditions Survey (AWCS), fielded from the RAND American Life Panel. The survey honed in on attributes of job sustainability, including control of work schedule, work speed and methods, carrying heavy loads, having friends at work, and receiving training from one’s employer. The AWCS found that, except for training opportunities, older workers still in sustaninable jobs have better working conditions than workers in nonsustainable jobs.

“People, generally, are happy with their jobs, feel they make an impact on their communities and have friends at work,” Mullen said.

Powell’s presentation, “What Job Characteristics Do Older Individuals Value? Evidence From a Stated Preferences Experiment,” delved into one of the group’s goals: estimating the value of job attributes for all individuals and understanding how older workers prioritize specific attributes. Powell discussed the value and design of stated preference experiments, with emphasis on how they set up their AWCS module. The researchers asked respondents to choose between two hypothetical jobs with differences in wages and nonwage characteristics. They then used stated job preferences to estimate the monetary value respondents put on each job characteristic, and followed by comparing the estimates by age. According to the researchers, the most important characteristics for workers ages 62 and older were moderate physical activity, 20 days of paid time off, and having performance evaluated on basis of own work rather than within a group.

Wenger ended the session with a discussion of “Job Sustainability: An International Perspective.” Wenger began by explaining the differing expectations of European and U.S. workers, then explained how the team worked with Eurofund to harmonize the European Working Conditions Survey with the AWCS. Wenger pointed out that, relative to European workers, American workers work more hours, but enjoy more flexibility, adjusting starting and finishing times, for example, by working evenings and weekends.

Although U.S. workers reported 85 percent job satisfaction, they fear job loss more than their EU counterparts: In the EU, 14 percent of workers age 50 and older fear job loss; in the U.S., 36 percent do.

On Saturday, Brooke Helppie McFall presented, “Occupational Differences in Rates of Cognitive Decline,” a joint project with Amanda Sonnega. The research brief seeks to offer descriptive evidence about the relationship between cognitive decline and early workforce departure and changes in occupation. The researchers used HRS Core (1996-2012) and RAND HRS Version O data. Word recall score, occupation, and retirement status at age 62/65 were variables. So far, the researchers find no clear movement into occupations with lower cognitive demands as people age.

All presenters emphasized the preliminary nature of their research. New insights into job sustainability will come as each team expands and evolves its projects.