The Work and Retirement Experiences of Aging Black Americans

By Brown, Edna; Jackson, James S. et al. | Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Work and Retirement Experiences of Aging Black Americans


Brown, Edna, Jackson, James S., Faison, Nakesha A., Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics


This chapter focuses on the life-course work experiences of Black Americans, and how these experiences influence well-being in later, normative periods and during processes of retirement (Jackson & Gibson, 1985). The focus on Black adults as they transition into retirement is important for several reasons. First, it is consistent with life-course theorizing (see, for example, Baltes, 1987; Carstensen, 1993; Freund & Baltes, 1998) that continuity exits between preand postretirement (Hayward, Friedman, & Chen, 1998; Jackson & Gibson, 1985; Kim & Moen, 2002; Quick & Moen, 1998). In general, the number of individuals reaching retirement age and living well beyond that is increasing at a rapid pace. Research has consistently shown that Blacks have lower income, education, and job status than others in the population and are less likely to have the pension plans or savings needed for a smooth transition into retirement (Hayward, Friedman, & Chen, 1996). These pre-retirement disparities can have negative influences on the quality of the retirement experiences of Black elderly and deleterious effects on their health and well-being. On the other hand, retiring from low-paying, low-status positions might be beneficial to overall well-being. Examining the continuity between work and retirement among Blacks yields a richer, more comprehensive understanding of this process for an American group that is disadvantaged.

Second, studying Blacks separately facilitates examining the diversity among Blacks, a heterogeneity often overlooked in a race comparative approach. Exploring characteristics associated with various work and retirement statuses permits a better understanding of the factors that make retirement satisfactory or unsatisfactory. The third reason is that the knowledge gained from this approach can be quite informative for policy development and implementation, which might help disadvantaged, especially African American, workers prepare for a better quality of life in the later stages of their lives.

The primary purpose of this exploratory study is to describe characteristics associated with the work and retirement experiences of Black adults in the Second (50-64 years) and Third Ages of life (65-79 years), at three different points in time, during the period 1979-2003. First, we briefly review the literature regarding the work and retirement statuses of Black elderly. Second, we describe our methodology and research questions. Finally, we present demographic and psychological characteristics associated with these work and retirement statuses of older Black adults in the Second and Third Ages of life, for each of three periods over the last 25 years.

BLACK ELDERLY AND RETIREMENT STATUS

One of the most important transitions for all aging Americans is from active, productive work to nonwork status. Over the years, research has documented that Blacks across the life-course suffer social and economic deprivations in comparison with others in this society; these disadvantages make the transition from working to retirement status more difficult than among other race and ethnic groups (Hayward et al., 1996, 1998; Jackson, 2001a, 2001b). On the other hand, scholars (e.g., Gibson, 1987, 1991a; Jackson & Gibson, 1984, 1985) have highlighted the heterogeneity of these experiences among older Blacks. For example, Jackson and Gibson (1985) and Gibson (1987) have conceptualized the working experiences of older Blacks along three, interrelated, perceived objective and subjective dimensions: working (working 20 hours per week or more), retired (not working at all or working less than 20 hours per week and self-identified as retired), and nonretired (not working at all or working less than 20 hours per week for reasons other than being retired). Each of these statuses, depending on earlier life experiences, had significantly different characteristics reflecting financial and health conditions, social and psychological background factors, social status, and social attitudes (Jackson, 2001b). …

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