These family choices and their interconnections with social policy are discussed further in Chapter 4.
Decisions about work and retirement in later years may be related to friendship networks inside and outside the workplace; the worker’s level of civic engagement with his or her community; and the kinds of amenities and supports available in the older worker’s living environment. Older workers with weak community linkages and strong friendship ties at work may find that their psychological well-being and life satisfaction are maximized by staying on the job even with declining health. Others whose community linkages are richer may feel they can increase their psychological well-being and life satisfaction by leaving paid employment and freeing up their time for community-based volunteer work or social activities. More flexible work options would allow older workers to perform these tradeoffs more effectively.
The life course perspective implicitly supports increased attention to the extreme diversity among older workers. In addition to identifying modal patterns for the age cohort as a whole, it is important to understand how the experience of particular subgroups of older workers reflects historical events they have experienced, the timing of key events in their personal lives, and the specific contexts in which their lives are lived. It matters a great deal whether their lives have been lived in an economically advantaged situation or a disadvantaged one; whether or not they have faced discrimination; whether they have had good luck or bad luck at key points in life; whether or not they had support from family and friends; and whether or not they were able to avoid conflicts between potentially competing priorities such as caregiving versus paid employment.
Different kinds of social disadvantage can intersect, deepening the effects of factors such as race, class, gender, and age (Dressel, 1988). Moreover, since positive or negative experiences over the life course have a cumulative effect, intracohort variability increases with age. That is, resource and income variations within an age cohort will intensify over time. For example, early completion of college and entry into a favorable occupational role produce ongoing advantages, which can open subsequent opportunities for home ownership and a vested pension (Henretta and Campbell, 1976). This pattern has been termed the “Matthew Effect,” reflecting the idea expressed in the Gospel of Saint Matthew that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” (Marshall and Mueller, 2002:23). Warr (1998:289) points out that intracohort variations in working conditions can also be expected to increase with age, so that “general statements about average exposure to, say, opportunity for control at work…may become increas-