al., 1987; Riley, 1988). It is necessary to identify stability and change in social structures and to show how stability or change affects the performance, productivity, health, and well-being of older adults. Special attention should be paid to such traditional subpopulations as ethnic and racial minorities and older women for whom social status and change entail increased risk to health. Although family structure and function continue to change, research points to a continuation of intergenerational contact and support, even when families are separated geographically (Sussman, 1985). Kinship ties still bond generations (Bengtson et al., 1985), and families continue to be the dominant source of social support in all societies (Horowitz, 1985; Hagestad, 1987).

Because of the social changes experienced in recent decades in the United States, further research is required on stability and change in living arrangements and exchange relationships. The changing structure of families and the implications of these changes for social support and caregiving demand special attention (Oppenheimer, 1982). The work force, the labor market, and the family responsibilities of women, for example, have been characterized by considerable change, but the effects of these changes have not been monitored adequately in research. The knowledge that family and labor force composition have changed does not give us the needed evidence for sound estimates of how these changes will affect the availability of social support for dependent older persons in the future. There has been little study, for example, of the implications of four-generation families, the conditions under which outside support services may affect informal family care, or how family support can be supplemented effectively by community services.

In the past decade sociologists, psychologists, and economists have looked at the relationships among work, retirement, and productivity. As our nation confronts a critical shortage of workers, increasing numbers of able older persons are spending two to three decades of their lives in retirement. Research is needed to specify what changes in social structure could provide productive opportunities for these older people and to examine how current trends in work, retirement, and productivity are experienced by aging individuals; how they affect physical and psychosocial functioning; and how they may result in loss of productivity. Studies that contribute to the better understanding and design of assessment techniques for evaluating work capacity and prolonging work careers of older adults clearly are needed. Additional studies are needed as well to understand the effects of the policies and decisions of business leadership on the hiring and retirement of older workers, and behavioral research is

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement