Abstract: Work-Family Life Course Patterns and Health in Later Life (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Work-Family Life Course Patterns and Health in Later Life

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Desert Sky, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Eunsun Kwon, PhD, Assistant Professor, Fairleigh Dickinson University, NJ
Eojin Shin, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, IL
Sojung Park, PhD, Associate University, Washington University in St. Louis, MO
Seoyeon Ahn, PhD, Deputy Research Fellow, National Pension Research, Korea, Republic of (South)
Soobin Park, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Washington University in St. Louis, MO
Background and Purpose: Drawing on a life course perspective, this study aims to extend the literature on work and later-year health by focusing on two understudied aspects. First, the relationship between labor market experiences and health should consider a large spectrum of employment statuses in order to capture the wide range of conditions that characterize the U.S. labor market trends. Specific consideration to the nature of work (i.e., work status, labor income level, occupational class) is vital to investigate the link from work history to health in later life. Second, this study takes a multidimensional approach to understanding individuals’ longitudinal employment trajectories with a focus on the interwoven nature of family life and paid work over the life course. Further explanations on the opportunity costs of taking time out of paid employment to form and raise a family need to be taken into account when characterizing people’s work patterns.

Methods: This study utilized data collected over 40 years from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979 Cohort (NLSY79), spanning three life course phases (young adulthood, middle adulthood, and late-middle adulthood). Through multichannel sequence analytic modeling, this study estimated simultaneously consider three life course domains (work status, marital and cohabiting status, and parenthood status). This multichannel sequence analysis is more sensitive to the timing and ordering of the transitions, which is particularly crucial in the analyses of the processes of emerging adulthood that are based on long follow-up data.

Results: The multichannel sequence analysis result showed nine distinct trajectories of the three life course dimensions. The individuals belonged to a group that was characterized with constant unstable employment status, low-skill occupations, or unstable partnership status with childcare responsibilities were more likely to have poorer health outcomes in later life. The relationship between the work-family trajectories and health varied across different health domains such as mobility functional limitations, depressive symptoms, cognitive functioning, and chronic conditions.

Conclusions and Implications: As increasing numbers of people live longer, ensuring good health for the entire population is crucial for extending the well-being and economic productivity of individuals in later life. Our analyses traced not only entrances into and exits from the labor force, but also marital history, family formation, and the impact of such changes on later health outcomes. Our findings will impact the advancement of current literature by characterizing heterogeneous trajectories of work and family life statuses and their influences on health outcomes and developing policy efforts to identify subgroups of late middle-aged individuals who are at risk of entering old age with high healthcare needs.