Methods: Using nationally representative data from the 2004 Health and Retirement Study, this study included over 5,000 community-dwelling older adults who were 55 years and older, and were working, volunteering or caring for other family members. The amount of employment referred to the weekly hours the older people worked (1-168); the amount of volunteering included the annual hours of unpaid work the older people contributed (1-200+); the amount of caregiving was the weekly hours that older adults cared for their spouse, grandchildren and parents (1-168). Predicted variables included (1) personal resources, and (2) social networks. Two indicators were used to measure personal resources: financial resources (annual household income and household assets), and physical resources (no report of chronic health conditions, cognitive problems and functional limitations). Social networks included family demands (number of grandchildren, whether his/her parents lived within 10 miles, and whether his/her spouse needed assistance), and social events (frequency of attending religious services, and frequency of visiting/chatting with friends or neighbors in the past month). To obtain accurate impacts from resources and social networks, several variables were controlled: age, gender, marital status, race/ethnicity and education. Three OLS regression models were applied to elucidate how much older people's personal resources and social networks influenced the amount of their involvement in employment, volunteering and family caregiving.
Results: Findings showed that greater financial resources decreased older people's working hours, but increased their amount of volunteering. Generally, good health (greater physical resources) increased the working hours for older adults, but its effect on volunteering and family caregiving was less supported. Greater family demands were found to increase older persons' caregiving hours. Increases in social events produced an especially pronounced increase in older adults' volunteer hours. Although the amount of employment and volunteering did not seem to differ among different racial groups, racial minorities were likely to provide more family caregiving. Gender did not influence the amount of volunteering, but older women worked less and gave more care than men.
Conclusions and Implications: As the RSM predicts, the diverse contexts of older persons, as indicated by personal resources and social networks, matter. Future research examining the interactions between personal resources and social networks is needed. Further discussion of the RSM on understanding productive activities in which older people engage will be provided.