Job Satisfaction in Older Workers: The Case of a Garment Manufacturing Company in Northwest Arkansas

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ABSTRACT

Previous research in the area of age and job satisfaction has shown a positive relationship between employee age and reported levels of job satisfaction. Several models have been proposed to explain this relationship, including both a life cycle model and various situational models. In this study, results of an employee survey conducted among factory workers in rural Arkansas were analyzed. There was a decrease in overall job satisfaction after age 45. Perceptions of management fairness and problem resolution also decreased with age. The results indicate that the relationship between job satisfaction and age can best be explained by determining the effect of age and associated factors on employees' expectations and the probability that those expectations can be met in the specific work setting.

INTRODUCTION

The topic of work motivation, and one of its subcategories, job satisfaction, has received a level of attention from researchers in psychology and management that might well be characterized as "intense interest" (Steers & Porter, p. xi). The level of research activity in this area should not be surprising, though, as conclusions or results from this area of research are applicable to a wide range of human activities and can often be useful in a business setting, both to increase individuals' satisfaction with their work and to increase the effectiveness of organizations.

Job satisfaction has been defined as "a pleasurable or positive emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one's job or job experiences" (Locke, p. 1300). As a human emotion, then, job satisfaction will certainly be affected by a great number of individual difference characteristics and environmental variables. One individual difference characteristic that has received a good deal of attention is the relationship of employee age to level of job satisfaction.

The topic of job satisfaction and the research in this area may be classified or broken down into two areas. The first area is a theoretical area: the definition of job satisfaction and its dimensions. The second area is an applied area: determining which worker characteristics, outside factors, and management interventions affect job satisfaction. It is this area, and particularly worker characteristics, that will be the focus of this study.

AGE AND JOB SATISFACTION

The role of age in job satisfaction has been explained in several ways. Four alternative models are the career stage model (Hall & Mansfield, 1975), Rhodes' taxonomy (1983), Zeitz's situational model (1990), and the job change hypothesis suggested by White and Spector (1987).

The first model, the career stage model, looks at individuals as passing through various stages in their lives and careers. Hall and Mansfield (1975) use the career stage model to account for age differences in job satisfaction. In their research, they suggested three career stages. In the early stage (age 20 to 34), the individual is in a trial phase and the highest needs are for self fulfillment. Individuals in the second or middle stage (ages 35 to 50) are in a "stabilization substage" (p. 208), in which the need for self fulfillment is strong and in which the individual is looking for professional achievement. During the third and final stage (age 50+), the individual is in a "maintenance" (p. 208) stage. The individuals in this stage are most strongly motivated by the need for security, yet they also show a higher level of intrinsic motivation (as defined by Herzberg, Mausner, Peterson & Capwell, 1957).

In the taxonomy proposed by Rhodes (1983), age effects on work attitudes and behaviors are divided into four categories: Chronological Age, Cohort Effects, Period Effects, and Sources of Systematic Error.

The first category, Chronological Age, includes the effects of both psychosocial aging and biological aging. Psychosocial aging includes, but is not limited to, the individual's passage through life cycles. …