Personality and Involvement in Leisure Activities during the Third Age: Findings from the Ohio Longitudinal Study1

By Diehl, Manfred; Berg, Kathleen M. | Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Personality and Involvement in Leisure Activities during the Third Age: Findings from the Ohio Longitudinal Study1


Diehl, Manfred, Berg, Kathleen M., Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics


Increases in active life expectancy (Crimmins & Hayward, 1997; Laslett, 1991), changes in the work force (Kim & Moen, 2001; Moen & Altobelli, this volume), and changes in the family life course (Moen, 1996) have given rise to a new period of the life span often referred to as the Third Age (Laslett, 1991; Weiss & Bass, 2002). Presumably, individuals who have entered the Third Age are retired from their lifetime occupation and have fulfilled their primary responsibilities with regard to family formation and childrearing (Weiss & Bass, 2002). Thus, they are perceived as having new opportunities for how they can live their lives and how they can give their remaining years of life meaning and purpose (Laslett, 1991; Weiss & Bass, 2002). Although the concept of the Third Age has received a great deal of attention in the mass media and popular press, little empirical research exists that could support or refute these widely held assumptions. Thus, it is mostly unknown whether older adults indeed perceive new opportunities when they retire from work and whether they give their lives new meaning and purpose.

This chapter focuses on the associations between personality and involvement in leisure activities during the retirement years using a longitudinal sample of older adults. Although a substantial amount of research exists on the transition to and life in retirement (see Kim & Moen, 2001 ; Moen & Altobelli, this volume), still little is known about the role that personality plays in adjusting to retirement (Carter & Cook, 1995; Kim & Moen, 2001) or in influencing the type of activities that individuals engage in during the postretirement years (Reis & Gold, 1993). One study that examined the role of personality in adjusting to retirement found that internal an locus of control was a significant resource for positive long-term adjustment (Gall, Evans, & Howard, 1997). Similarly, Carter and Cook (1995) found that individuals with a higher degree of retirement self-efficacy experienced lower levels of anxiety in the transition to retirement. In general, these findings suggest that certain personality variables, such as a person's sense of agency and self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997; Rowe & Kahn, 1998) should be important predictors of adjustment to retirement and possibly of engagement in leisure activities. Conversely, personality variables also may exist that can interfere with the adjustment process and can prevent older adults from being involved in activities. For example, a large cohort-sequential study has shown that personality flexibility in midlife contributes to the maintenance of intellectual abilities in later life, and that rigidity and inflexibility tend to have detrimental effects (Schaie, 1996). Thus, there is good reason to believe that an individual's personality may play a role in postretirement adjustment, in engagement in activities, and in successful aging more generally (Rowe & Kahn, 1998).

Focusing on adult involvement in leisure activities as a central aspect of the Third Age is warranted for several reasons. First, it is often assumed that leisure activities replace a person's occupation when he or she retires, providing a similar, yet self-controlled structure to the individual's daily life (Balmer & Balmer, 1985). second, involvement in leisure activities has been shown to be associated with a number of beneficial outcomes. For example, because many leisure activities involve social partners, engagement in leisure activities has been found to moderate the negative effects of bereavement on men's physical health (Fitzpatrick, Spiro, Kressin, Greene, & Bossé, 2001). Similarly, involvement in leisure activities has been shown to be associated with greater social support and more elaborated social networks, thus improving the social resources available to retired adults (Silverstein & Parker, 2002). In addition to the beneficial effects of socializing with others, strong evidence also suggests that involvement in complex leisure activities increases the older adults intellectual functioning (Fabrigoule, Letenneuer, Dartiges, Zarrouk, Commenges, & Barberger-Gateau, 1995; Schooler & Mulatu, 2001).

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