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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2008 Mar;63(2):S64-72.

Productive activities and psychological well-being among older adults.

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Department of Sociology, University of Chicago, 1126 East 59 Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.



The purpose of this study was to test whether paid work and formal volunteering reduce the rate of mental health decline in later life.


Using four waves of Health and Retirement Study data collected from a sample of 7,830 individuals aged 55 to 66, I estimated growth curve models to assess the effects of productive activities on mental health trajectories. The analytical strategy took into account selection processes when examining the beneficial effects of activities. The analyses also formally attended to the sample attrition problem inherent in longitudinal studies.


The results indicated that activity participants generally had better mental health at the beginning of the study. Full-time employment and low-level volunteering had independent protective effects against decline in psychological well-being. Joint participants of both productive activities enjoyed a slower rate of mental health decline than single-activity participants.


The results are consistent with activity theory and further confirm the role accumulation perspective. The finding that full-time work combined with low-level volunteering is protective of mental health reveals the complementary effect of volunteering to formal employment. Methodological and theoretical implications are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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