The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Relationship Between Older People's Functional Health and Volunteering, Full-Time, and Part-Time Employment: Longitudinal Latent Growth Curve Model

Saturday, January 18, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Eunhee Choi, MSW, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Fengyan Tang, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Purpose: As people live longer, staying healthy and maintaining independence in old age becomes crucial. Research evidences that volunteering and employment can help older people maintain their functional health. However, existing studies are limited in four ways. First, most studies used a cross sectional approach in examining these two activities’ impact on functional health. Second, although older people’s motivation between to volunteer and to be employed may differ, the different influences of volunteering and employment have not been compared systematically. Third, it is necessary to separate the influences of full-time and part-time employment as the number of part-time workers is increasing in old age. Finally, most studies focused on how these activities impact on functional health, leaving out how functional health initially influences older people’s choice to participate in the activities. To expand our understanding, this study aims to longitudinally examine the relationship between older people’s functional health and three different activities: volunteering, full-time, and part-time work. Using a latent growth curve model makes it possible for this study to test the reciprocal relationship between functional health and these activities, correctly examining the relationship.

Methods: Using the 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) datasets, this study tracked the HRS participants over the nine years. This study only analyzed those respondents who are either Whites or Blacks aged between 50 to 68 in 2000 (total sample size = 23,420). Variables of interest include formal volunteering (yes/no), full-time work (full-time employed/retired), and part-time work (part-time employed/retired). Functional health is measured by Activities of Daily Living (ADL), ranging 0 to 5. Control variables are age, gender, race, education, and income. The study model is analyzed by a multivariate latent growth curve model, using the EQS software.

Results: When the effects of the control variables are ruled out, the relationship between functional health and the three activities was found to be reciprocal. To illustrate, better functional health in 2000 linked to continuously participating in volunteering and full-time employment for the next nine years. In the same time, participating in volunteering and full-time employment between 2000 and 2008 significantly slowed the deterioration of functional health over the nine years. On the other hand, part-time employment showed different results. Those who had relatively higher number of ADL limitations in 2000 tended to remain partly employed. Moreover, working part-time during the nine years actually further worsened one’s functional health over the years.   

Implications: This study shows that volunteering and full-time work help older people maintain their functional health. This study reinforces the importance of harnessing older people’s desire to continue working or volunteering beyond retirement age. On the other hand, some older individuals, even in deteriorating health, tended to keep their part-time jobs. Identifying these older workers and understanding their reasons to remain in the labor market are required for future research.