Two basic questions can be asked with respect to psychological aging in the context of health and safety in work. The first concerns the effects of psychological aging on safety and productivity in the workforce, and the second concerns the effects of work on the mental abilities of older workers.
As noted earlier, in many respects older workers appear to have higher levels of personality or emotional stability than young adults. There are consequently no reasons to expect adverse effects on health and safety related to the personality or psychological adjustment of older workers.
In contrast, negative relations might be expected between age and work performance, because cognitive abilities are important for work, and, as indicated above, increased age is associated with declines in certain aspects of cognitive functioning. However, reviews of research on aging and work performance have revealed little overall age trend in measures of job performance (e.g., Avolio, Waldman, and McDaniel, 1990; McEvoy and Cascio, 1989; Salthouse and Maurer, 1996; Waldman and Avolio, 1986; Warr, 1994). Although the reviews suggest that there is little relation between age and job performance, one should be cautious about any conclusions at the current time, because of weaknesses in many of the empirical studies. For example, most studies can be criticized for having a limited age range with few workers over the age of 50; questionable validity and sensitivity of the job performance assessments; and little control for selective survival such that only the highest performing workers may have continued on the job to advanced age (Warr, 1994). Furthermore, it is worth noting that moderate to strong negative relations between age and performance have been reported in certain cognitively demanding occupations, such as air traffic controllers (e.g., Becker and Milke, 1998) and pilots (e.g., Taylor et al., 2000), and in the magnitude of performance improvements associated with job training (Kubeck et al., 1996).
One explanation for the lack of stronger negative relations between age and work performance is a positive relation between age and job-relevant experience. Warr (1994) has speculated about a possible interaction of age and experience for performance in different types of jobs, based on hypothesized patterns of age-related and experience-related influences. He suggested that negative age relations would be expected in only a few jobs, and not in the jobs that involve knowledge-based judgment with no time pressure, relatively undemanding activities, or skilled manual work. Warr’s speculations are intriguing, but there is currently little understanding of the demands of particular jobs in terms of the relative involvement of process (or fluid or mechanics) and product (or crystallized or pragmatics) abilities,