Age and Work: Advances in Theory, Methods, and Practice

Age and Work: Advances in Theory, Methods, and Practice

Published in 2022 from the SIOP Organizational Frontiers Series

“Age and work” is now a mature research area within the field of industrial and organizational psychology and related disciplines. Over the past decade, several edited books (e.g., Field, Burke, & Cooper, 2013; Shultz & Adams, 2019), review articles (e.g., Hertel & Zacher, 2018; Truxillo, Cadiz, & Hammer, 2015), and meta-analyses (e.g., Katz, Rudolph, & Zacher, 2019; Ng & Feldman, 2013) have been published on the topic. Moreover, since 2015, the journal Work, Aging and Retirement has provided an interdisciplinary forum for research in this area (Wang, 2015, 2019). However, existing works have not emphasized the advancement or “frontiers” of knowledge on age and work. Instead, across several edited volumes, authors have mainly focused on linking employee age with well-established topics and constructs in industrial and organizational psychology (e.g., performance management, work design, motivation, leadership). In contrast, previous books have not examined novel and challenging questions related to age and work that require answers to move the field forward in significant ways.

Accordingly, the overarching goal of this edited book is to present a systematic collection of key advances in theory, methods, and practice regarding age and work. Although based on established theories and prior findings on age and work, the chapters outlined below will break new ground by developing novel and useful theory, explaining underutilized but important methodological approaches, and suggesting original practical applications of emerging research topics. In addition, the editors and all chapter authors will explicitly encourage scholars to be more considerate of age in the organizational sciences literature in general, for example by explaining and empirically examining whether theories and empirical research findings hold equally well across the entire working age range.

After an epilogue/preface by a prominent aging at work advocate, the editors’ will introduce the book and explain how research on age and work has “come of age,” so-to-say (Chapter 1). They summarize what we know and do not yet know, and present the goals, contributions, structure, and context of the book. In addition, this chapter will present an integrative theoretical framework of age and work, based on a combination of lifespan and life course perspectives. The second chapter focuses on statistics and numerical facts about workforce age and demography trends, including the role of age in different subgroups, sectors, and countries/ cultures, as well as projections for changes that are likely to occur in the next 10+ years. The following chapters in the book are structured around three main sections (detailed, below): (1) theoretical and (2) methodological advances in research on age and work, as well as (3) practical advances regarding age and work. To ensure a coherent “structure” to this volume, we will ask authors of chapters in each section to consider the theories, methods, and/or practical applications outlined in chapters in the other two respective sections and make relevant references to them. Moreover, we will ask authors to make the final sections of each chapter “future focused” by including clear guidance for future directions in a) theoretical advances, b) applications of methodology, and c) directions for practice. Authors will be tasked to address the directions that research, methodology, and practice on age and work needs to take in the next 10 years. They will discuss the theories, methods, and practical concerns that are most pressing and need continued attention, innovations and advancement to address the challenges of an aging workforce.

The theoretical advances section includes five chapters. Chapter 3 describes that “alternative” conceptualizations of age, such as functional, psychological, and organizational age have become an increasingly popular research topic (Rudolph, Kunze, & Zacher, 2019). This chapter develops theory on the links between these conceptualizations and chronological age as well as work outcomes (links which are arguably as-of-yet underdeveloped in this literature). Chapter 4 argues that the intersectionality of age with other demographic and individual difference characteristics is currently not well-understood (Marcus & Fritzsche, 2015). Integrating research on social role theory and age and work, this chapter develops a new research agenda on this topic. Chapter 5 starts with the observation that several lifespan theories outline age-specific goals and behaviors, such as acquiring new knowledge versus passing on existing knowledge onto others (Carstensen, 2006). The aim of this chapter is to develop theory on the integration of such seemingly paradoxical age-related actions in the work context. Chapter 6 is based on critical reviews on the notion of “generations” and the downsides of focusing on generational differences in the work context (e.g., Rauvola, Rudolph, & Zacher, 2019; Rudolph, Rauvola, & Zacher, 2018). Advancing research in this area, this chapter aims to develop theory on the pervasiveness and potential utility of socially constructed generational identities at work. Chapter 7, the final chapter in the theoretical advances section, aims to integrate several loosely connected motivational lifespan theories (e.g., selection-optimization-compensation model, motivational theory of lifespan development) (Baltes & Baltes, 1990; Heckhausen, Wrosch, & Schulz, 2010; see Rudolph, 2016, for a review) to advance research on age and work.

The second section on methodological advances in research on age and work also includes five chapters. Chapter 8 is based on recent criticisms of age and work research as “a science of questionnaires” (Gerpott, Lehmann-Willenbrock, & Scheibe, 2020). This chapter explains how researchers can make use of behavioral observations to gain new insights on age and work. Chapter 9 starts with the observation that, with few exceptions (Böhm, Kunze, & Bruch, 2014), most research on age and work has focused on relationships at the between-person level. This chapter explains how age can be examined at higher conceptual and analytical levels, including the team and organizational levels. The following three chapters describe three underutilized methodological approaches that have the potential to significantly advance understanding of age and work. Chapter 10 focuses on diary and longitudinal studies, which are highly relevant yet underutilized to understand age and work (Wang et al., 2017). Chapter 11 outlines “best practices” for conducting experiments and interventions on age and work, which are necessary to establish causal conclusions (Hommelhoff, Müller, & Scheibe, 2018). Chapter 12 builds on a recent commentary that recommended increased use of qualitative methods to understand retirement (Amabile, 2019). The chapter also outlines best practices for the conduct of qualitative research, which are particularly important to gain a complete understanding of age and work. Finally, Chapter 13 focuses on the use of existing archival data to gain a better understading age and work, for instance using the Health and Retirement Study in the U.S., the HILDA study in Australia, or the German Socioeconomic Panel Study.

The third section of the book addresses practical advances regarding age and work. In particular, it focuses on critical future research questions in five areas that assist in proposing concrete practical interventions. The authors will adopt a future-focused lens and provide a comprehensive agenda for scholarship, informed by the theoretical and methodological points reviewed the first two sections of the text. The chapters present current state of the science reviews of interventions/applications and also include future focused research and practice gaps. First, several studies on age and job crafting (i.e., proactive changes employees make with regard to their work tasks and relationships) have suggested that younger and older employees benefit from different crafting strategies (Kooij, Tims, & Kanfer, 2015; Kooij, van Woerkom, Wilkenloh, Dorenbosch, & Denissen, 2017). The goal of Chapter 14 is to explicate the design and benefits of job crafting interventions in organizations, and the role of age therein. Chapter 15 suggests that research on age and knowledge sharing/hiding has matured and will provide recommendations for how individuals and organizations can best reap the benefits of such intergenerational exchanges (Gerpott, Fasbender, & Burmeister, 2019). Chapter 16 builds on recent theoretical and empirical advances in the work-nonwork interface literature (Hirschi, Shockley, & Zacher, 2019) to suggest action strategies that younger and older workers can use (and those that career counselors can train) to maintain or improve work-life balance. Chapter 17 focuses on research on age and occupational health and well-being to derive practical implications for organization that want to facilitate “healthy aging” and reduce absenteeism and presenteeism among workers of different ages. Finally, Chapter 18 is based on a recent commentary on three meta-strategies for managing aging and increasingly age diverse workforce: include, individualize, and integrate (Parker & Andrei, 2020). This chapter will explicate the practice applications of this framework and associated empirical research.

The book concludes with an epilogue and critical reflections on theoretical, methodological, and practical advances regarding age and work by a senior scholar working on the topic.

Volume Chapters

Prologue (Ritu Sadana, World Health Organization)

Section I: Introduction and Overview

  • Chapter 1. Research on age and work has come of age (Cort Rudolph & Hannes Zacher)

  • Chapter 2. Workforce age trends and projections (Jürgen Deller)

Section II: Theoretical Advances in Research on Age and Work

  • Chapter 3. Beyond chronological age: Alternative age constructs and work (David Weiss & Mona Weiss)

  • Chapter 4. Intersectionality of age with gender and ethnicity at work (Justin Marcus)

  • Chapter 5. Integrating paradoxical age-related actions at work (Kathrin Rosing & Hannes Zacher)

  • Chapter 6. Generational differences and generational identity at work (David Costanza, Sarah Salvi, & Daniel Ravid)

  • Chapter 7. Integrating lifespan theories and implications for work (Shelly Rauvola & Cort Rudolph)

Section III: Methodological Advances in Research on Age and Work

  • Chapter 8. Perceived and actual behaviors in research on age and work (Fabiola Gerpott & Nale Lehmann-Willenbrock)

  • Chapter 9. Age at the team and organizational levels (Florian Kunze & Kilian Hampel)

  • Chapter 10. Diary and longitudinal methods to study age and work (Mo Wang)

  • Chapter 11. Conducting experiments and interventions to understand age and work (Susanne Scheibe & Sabine Hommelhoff)

  • Chapter 12. Qualitative methods to research age and work (Annika Wilhelmy, Guido Hertel, & Tine Köhler)

  • Chapter 13. Using archival data to research age and work (Gwenith Fisher, Janet Barnes-Farrell, Julie Buck, & Kenneth Shultz)

Section IV: Practical Advances Regarding Age and Work

  • Chapter 14. Age and job crafting (Dorien Kooij & Ruth Kanfer)

  • Chapter 15. Age and knowledge sharing/hiding (Anne Burmeister & Ulrike Fasbender)

  • Chapter 16. Age and managing the work-nonwork interface (Greg Thrasher, Boris Baltes, Caitlin Demsky, & Grace)

  • Chapter 17. Facilitating healthy aging and reducing absenteeism/presenteeism (Donald Truxillo, Dave Cadiz, Grant Brady, & Jennifer Rineer)

  • Chapter 18. Organizational meta-strategies for younger and older workers (Sharon Parker & Daniela Andrei)

Epilogue (Lisa Finkelstein)

Editor Biographies

Dr. Hannes Zacher ( is a Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology at the Institute of Psychology – Wilhelm Wundt, Leipzig University. In his research program, he investigates aging at work, career development, and occupational well-being; proactivity, innovation, leadership, and entrepreneurship; and pro-environmental employee behavior.

Dr. Cort W. Rudolph ( is an Associate Professor of Industrial and Organizational Psychology at Saint Louis University. His research focuses on a variety of issues related to the aging workforce, including the application of lifespan development perspectives, well-being and work-longevity, and ageism.


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Cort W. Rudolph
Associate Professor of Industrial & Organizational Psychology