By James, Jacquelyn Boone; Wink, Paul | Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview


James, Jacquelyn Boone, Wink, Paul, Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics

This book is the product of a collaborative program of research on the meaning and experience of the Third Age in American life. The added years of longevity and health being lavished on today's Third Age adults are unprecedented and, as such, represent opportunities for a variety of approaches to contentment, satisfaction, and, yes, continued growth during the conventional retirement years.

To focus attention on the potential of the Third Age, describe what it is like for current role occupants, predict satisfaction and well-being outcomes, and think more broadly about changing trends in retired living for individuals from a broad spectrum, we invited an interdisciplinary team of researchers from a variety of institutions to a meeting held at the Henry A. Murray Research Center at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, in spring 2003. We are grateful to the Retirement Research Foundation for funding the effort and to the Murray Research Center for providing space and staff support for the meeting.

The purpose of the grant was to host an organizational meeting with leading scholars in the field of aging and retirement from across the United States to build intellectual rigor and coherence for an edited volume that would chart the Third Age as a new life stage. Given the dearth of data-driven research on the subject, the goal of the project was to provide a new view of retirement for a large segment of the population now contemplating its future as retirees. We believe that the volume is unique in that most of the contributors make use of longitudinal data to study patterns of development as they occur, as opposed to using retrospective accounts. In addition, most authors had access to qualitative data that could be used to enrich findings and enhance the accessibility of the volume.

At the end of the first meeting, considerable interest was expressed in the project and a recommendation made that participants gather a second time to discuss findings, identify themes that cut across the papers and, where possible, reconcile areas of disagreement. Fortunately, sufficient money also was left in the budget to make a second meeting possible. In addition, we were gratified to receive supplementary funds from the Wellesley College faculty development program endowed by the Mellon Foundation.

The investigators were sociologists, economists, psychiatrists, and psychologists. At least 11 of the investigators had long worked with ongoing longitudinal studies. Some of the studies have been active for 60 years or better, for example, the Intergenerational Studies data from the University of California at Berkeley (Wink) and the Terman Life-Cycle Study of children with High Ability (McCullough), both of which are made available through the auspices of the Murray Research Center's archive. Three others had been active for over 40 years: the Adult Development Study (Vaillant), the Mills College Longitudinal Study (Helson), and the Seattle Longitudinal Study (Willis & Schaie). Some used population-based surveys. Sorensen, for example, made use of U.S. Census Bureau data (2000); Grafova and Stafford drew upon their experience with the multi-cohort Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). James and Spiro conducted secondary analyses of the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS), an ongoing study of a cohort born from 1931 to 1941 that has been followed every 2 years since 1992.

The second meeting was held at Wellesley College, June 18-19, 2004. Papers from most of the contributors were circulated prior to the meeting. Twelve contributors attended the meeting. Sessions were organized around sections of the book including: 1) demographic characteristics of Third Age individuals; 2) anticipation of the Third Age during the Second Age; 3) change over time during the Third Age; and 4) life in the Third Age, including one very nice descriptive study of life in retirement communities. The work of contributors who sent papers but could not attend was summarized by one of the coauthors and discussed by the group. …

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