Summary

The median income for both men and women increases from young adulthood to middle age and then declines in old age. Despite receiving lower incomes than younger and middle-aged adults, older Americans are financially better off than they were a few decades ago. Increases in Social Security and private pension benefits, coupled with tax breaks, senior discounts, and supplemental government programs for the elderly, have increased the discretionary income and overall standard of living of older Americans.

Average income is lower for women and minorities than for men and whites, lower for people with less education, lower in the South than in other parts of the nation, and lower in the central cities than in other metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The biggest source of income for most people consists of earnings, but interest and divided income, Social Security, and other pension benefits make significant contributions to the incomes of many Americans.

Approximately 14% of the U.S. population was classified as poor in 1995. The poverty rate was highest for Hispanics and blacks than for Asian/Pacific Islanders and non-Hispanic whites, but more non-Hispanic whites than any other ethnic group were classified as poor. The poverty rate was higher for Americans under age 18 than for other age groups, and higher for foreign-born than for native-born Americans.

Many different pension program are managed by federal, state, and local governments, but the most extensive of all these programs is the OASI program managed by the Social Security Administration. In addition to OASI, the Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) ensures that aged, blind, and disabled persons with no income and very limited resources of other kinds will have a minimum monthly income. However, the fiscal solvency of the Social Security program is a source of continuing economic and political concern.

Private pension plans supported by business and professional organizations in most industrialized countries are of two kinds—defined-benefit and defined-contribution. Most pension programs are of the defined-benefit kind, guaranteeing a specific monthly income to workers when they reach retirement age. Benefits are more variable under the defined-contribution plan, depending on fluctuations in the financial markets in which the pension funds have been invested. Because of their more irregular work histories, women are less likely than men to receive private pension benefits.

The largest number of full-time employees are clerical and other administrative support personnel, but service workers constitute the largest portion of temporary and part-time employees. Whatever the occupational category may be, the amount of financial compensation for work is related to training and experience. The highest paid of all individuals in the labor force are physicians, lawyers, engineers, and airplane pilots.

Donald Super's theory characterizes vocational interests and occupational choice as developing in a series of stages, beginning with the crystallization and specificationstages of adolescence, progressing to the implementation and establishment stages of young adulthood, continuing into the consolidation and maintenance stages of middle adulthood,and declining in the deceleration and retirement stages of older adulthood. Betz extended Super's emphasis on the role of the self-concept in occupational choice to include Bandura's concept of self-efficacy development in the process of vocational counseling. Other theorists, such as Holland and Roe,have underscored the relationships between vocational interests and personality characteristics.

Job satisfaction varies not only with the status,power, financial and other rewards of the job, but also with the age and personality of the worker. Younger and older adults both express greater satisfaction than middle-aged adults with their jobs. Chronic dissatisfaction with one's job can lead to alienation, a feeling of dissociation or estrangement from the job. Flextime and worker development and enhancement programs can assist in countering alienation.

Burnout is precipitated by the stress of overwork and is characterized by a number of physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms, including the inability to keep up with the pace and pressure of the job and a depletion of energy and motivation. Another source of work-related stress is multiple-role strain, which arises in working women who experience a conflict between the work role and the role of wife and mother. Chronic stress can also contribute to errors and accidents on the job.

Losing one's job is quite stressful, leading to psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression as well as various physical and behavioral symptoms. The loss of a job is less serious for younger than for older adults, but it is typically viewed with greatest alarm by middle-aged adults. Middle-aged workers who are laid off are generally too young to retire, but they also experience the greatest difficulty in finding positions comparable in status and salary to their previous ones.

Larger numbers of Americans than ever before are retiring, retiring earlier, and living for a longer time after retirement. The decreased need for a large workforce of older adults and the increased attractiveness of financial incentives for retirement have expanded the population of retirees during the past few decades. The major reasons for early retirement are health and disability problems and the financial feasibility of doing so. In addition, many workers grow dissatisfied or discouraged with their jobs, and others retire simply because they and their families consider it time to do so.

Retirees typically have done little or no formal planning for retirement, but most companies provide sessions or workshops on financial, health-related, and other matters of concern to workers for whom retirement is imminent. Despite a minimum amount of planning in most instances, retirees on the whole adjust quite well to the event, status, and process of retirement. Those for whom adjustment to retirement is more of a problem tend to be individuals who have financial and/or health problems, who have difficulty envisioning a life without gainful employment, and who were forced to retire. Blue-collar workers and women usually experience greater difficulty than white-collar workers and men in adjusting to retirement; workers with less education also tend to have more problems than those with more education.

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