Men who fail to reach their early career goals can experience a reduced sense of wellbeing much later in life.
That is the suggestion of research being presented to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Health Psychology by Caroline Brett and her colleagues from the University of Edinburgh.
Caroline Brett and her colleagues contacted 174 people aged 77 (82 men, 92 women) and asked them to complete a number of measures of health and wellbeing in older age.
Earlier in life these people had been participants in the 6-Day Sample project. This collected comprehensive information on a representative sample of the Scottish population, born on six days of 1936, over the years between 1947 and 1963. This meant that Caroline Brett and her colleagues had access to detailed information on their early adult life.
The results from the modern-day measures the sample completed revealed that men who had held a greater number of jobs (an indicator of career instability) between leaving school at age 15 and age 27 were less likely to feel their lives were manageable in old age. Upward social mobility was associated with the feeling in older age that life was comprehensible.
Men whose occupational goals reported at age 18 were subsequently met or exceeded showed a greater sense in older age that life has meaning.
For women in this group, the main finding was that women with higher education, occupational achievement and upward social mobility by age 27, and who had met or exceeded their occupational goals reported at age 18, tended to have a more optimistic outlook in old age.
Women who adjusted their occupational goals between the ages of 15 and 18 in response to non-attainment of those goals reported higher life satisfaction in old age than those who did not change their goals.
Caroline Brett says:
"These men and women were entering the labour market in the early 1950s when opportunities were quite different than they are for young people today. There was almost full employment amongst men, and many women were expected to leave work on getting married and start a family. But thanks to the unique 6-Day Sample project we still have a detailed picture of their lives as young adults in that era.
"In men, unstable early careers or lack of goal attainment or social mobility appears to be negatively related to their subsequent outlook on life and the degree to which life makes sense in old age.
"In women, for whom educational and occupational opportunities were often lacking, attaining higher education and a higher status occupation appears to be related to a more optimistic outlook in old age."
The researchers emphasise that these associations were not large, and that outcomes will have been affected by many other factors, probably including personal traits, social circumstances and health.
They also say that this group of 77-year-olds were asked a large number of questions, so these results will need to be replicated in other longitudinal studies before firm conclusions are drawn.
Cite This Page: