Methods: Using nationally representative panel data from the Health and Retirement Study (2010 and 2012 waves) in the United States, lagged dependent variable models were performed among Leave-Behind Questionnaire (LBQ) respondents aged 51+ who were engaged in the labor force (N=2,163). We analyzed work demands in each of four areas: overall work demands, physical work demands, mental work demands, and interpersonal demands. Occupation type was categorized into three groups: professional/managerial occupations, clerical/sales/service occupations, and blue-collar occupations. Models were stratified by race.
Results: Both White and Black older adults working in blue-collar occupations had worse episodic memory when compared to those in professional/managerial occupations. Among Blacks, engaging in clerical/sales/service occupations was associated with worse episodic memory compared to engaging in professional/managerial occupations. For both White and Black older adults, higher perceived ability to meet mental demands was associated with higher levels of episodic memory. Interpersonal demands and cognition were significantly associated among Blacks, but were trending towards positive associations among Whites.
Conclusions and Implications: Promoting cognitively and socially stimulating work environments is essential to health equity. Moreover, providing support and resources for older adults who are engaged in blue-collar occupations or clerical/sales/service occupations is important. Race differences imply the greater need to provide age-friendly workplaces for older workers of color. This can be done by providing appropriate work demands and additional support to meet these demands. It is recommended that future research take into account both objective and self-perceived work complexity to deepen the understanding of the workplace-cognition relationship. Social work policy, practice, and research implications of these findings are discussed.