Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Adaptation to Retirement: Role Changes and Psychological Resources

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Adaptation to Retirement: Role Changes and Psychological Resources

Article excerpt

In this review, the influence of social and work roles are incorporated into a model of retirement adjustment, along with two psychological moderators that may aid the retirement transition. These psychological resources, locus of control and retirement self-efficacy, are those behavioral predispositions that would lead one to engage in proactive strategies for mastering the role changes inherent in the retirement transition. The implications of social and work-related role changes and psychological resources for retirement planning and adjustment are discussed.

Contemporary discussion of the retirement process seems to be characterized by description rather than by explanation. Although variables that significantly correlate with retirement adjustment have been identified, inconsistencies in the predictive strength of these variables often emerge across studies. This suggests a need for a greater understanding of the processes constituting the retirement transition. Reviewers have provided very useful frameworks for consolidating past research on predictors of retirement (Atchley, 1979; Talaga & Beehr, 1989), yet less information is available on the psychological factors that underlie retirement adjustment.

Role theory is a potentially useful framework for examining the retirement transition. Roles consist of activities and behaviors that characterize a person in a given social context and may be fundamental in understanding adjustment to change (George, 1990). Role theory suggests that certain socially prescribed and personally relevant roles are critical in self-identity. These self-defined roles may emerge through one's relationship to close personal associates (e.g., mother, friend) and may also stem from valued activities experienced in the work roles (e.g., physician), from voluntary group affiliations (e.g., bridge clubs), and from leisure activities (e.g., gardener, photographer).

Individual differences in adjustment to change can be understood by examining the shifts in critical role activity that accompany life transitions. Research by George ( 1990) has shown that role theory can be used as a foundation for understanding retirement adjustment. She used role theory to predict how older people negotiate age-related changes and reported that a person's success in negotiating and managing the necessary shifts in activities that result from role change and redefinition determine adjustment. This role-based approach may be applied to the retirement process, because leaving the workforce necessitates a shift in roles and activities. Variation in retirement adjustment may be attributable to individual differences in the ability to make these role and activity shifts.

Retirement may be viewed, then, as a transition that involves role expansion, redefinition, and change. Role activities that may diminish are those that depend on contact with coworkers and activities involved in the execution of work functions. Thus, social roles whose maintenance depends on coworker interactions and professional roles that are based on work behaviors would be strongly influenced by workforce exit. The influence of such postretirement role loss on the individual would depend on the self-rated importance of these work-dependent roles and on the availability of other satisfying substitutes for the old roles.

This literature review integrates research on these social and work-oriented roles and explores their relationship to the retirement experience. The influence of social and work roles is incorporated into an overview of retirement adjustment, along with two psychological factors that may aid the retirement transition. First, we report empirical research on the relationship between social roles and adjustment. These social roles include relationships with friends and family members, affiliations with social groups, and leisure activities. Next, we discuss roles that are based on work activities and the effect of workforce exit. …

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