Saturday, September 3, 2016

Are older workers more consistent day to day?





The third story, written by Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers and published on the psychologytoday.com blog, is “Why Your Grandmother Is Still Working.”  They mention a few high profile, successful people who have done or are doing some kind of work in their 80s and then describe how many people are working productively beyond retirement age. There is not just an increase in the number of older people working, but also an increase in the number of those in full-time employment: up to 60% of all workers over 65. There may be a sex issue to discuss here, but the authors only mention this in passing without addressing it further:

“Conventional wisdom has it that older workers—many of them women—have a hard time focusing, are easily distracted, have short attention spans, and are, as a result, less productive than younger workers”

A study from the Max Planck Institute in Germany in 2010 is referred to (maybe by Axel Börsch-Supan - at this stage it's not really clear), showing that older workers are more focused and consistent. A “startling conclusion” is that older workers are, on balance, more productive.

This is put down to the accumulation of resources like confidence, expertise and coping. The final message is that we need to re-think our feelings about older workers and prevent these becoming self-fulfilling prophecy. The authors, it turns out, have written a book about this kind of thing.
So let’s check for Börsch-Supan and find out exactly what this conclusion was and whether it’s really startling.

1.       What exactly did the researchers conclude in this study?
Details about the study can be found on the Max Planck Institute website. Börsch-Supan wasn’t actually an author of this particular study but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is this conclusion despite having lower average levels of performance, older adults maintained stabler day-to-day levels of performance than did younger adults. In many vocational, voluntary, and leisure settings, older adults’ higher degree of consistency from day to day may be an advantageous attribute that positively contributes to their productivity” (p.7 of the study itself).

That was the first mention of productivity in the paper. So it’s not a paper about productivity, and there is no ‘startling conclusion’ – just an interesting finding that older workers are more consistent in their performance from day-to-day.

Take home message: um… the study is a good study that humbly states what happened and what it means. Börsch-Supan knows what he’s talking about, but the writers of the post seem to have taken a few liberties in their reporting of the study.

A final thought: the article hints at sex issues, and is in fact located in a section of the Psychology Today blog labelled "A woman's place" and the title of the piece is "Why your grandmother's still working" so I'm left a bit mystified. If there was interest, I'd look into it myself to highlight important issues facing older female as opposed to male workers.

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