To make longer life a better life.
To promote opportunity, choice, and quality of paid and unpaid work across the lifespan, with a focus on older adults. Through research studies, engagement with a multi-disciplinary network of scholars and practitioners, and efforts to translate research into practice, we bridge the worlds of research and practice.
The Center’s vision and mission align closely with the School of Social Work’s values of individual dignity, respect for diversity, and pursuit of justice. The University’s mission, based in the Catholic, Jesuit tradition, is reflected strongly in our projects as we work to consider the “whole person”—mental, physical, social, and emotional—in the context of vocation across the lifespan.
Since its inception in 2005 through the generous funding of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and under the leadership of Dr. Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes (2005-2011) and Dr. Michael Smyer (2005-2008), the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College has put a vital stake in the ground around issues of aging and work. Key accomplishments of the Center include:
Thought Leadership for an Aging Society
The Center has played a critical role in increasing the prominence of aging workforce issues, transforming the topic from a marginal one with few vocal advocates to one that is recognized as central to the overall health of an aging society.
Major Research Studies
The Center has conducted a wide range of major research studies, including:
- 2008 Age & Generations Study
- 2008 CitiSales Study
- 2009 Talent Management Study
- 2011 Generations of Talent Study
- 2012–2013 Time & Place Management Study
The impact of these studies will continue, as the data are archived at the nation’s preeminent social science data center, the Inter‐university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan.
Databases, Tools, and Publications
The Center has produced a variety of databases, tools, and other translational research products that are accessible to a wide variety of stakeholders. Examples include:
- Workforce Benchmarking Tool
- Employer Solutions for Family Caregivers Module
- The Facts Database
- Innovative Practices Database
- Innovative Practices Case Reports & Executive Case Reports
- Publications (including research briefs, research highlights, fact sheets, case studies, comparative policy summaries, country and state profiles, issue briefs, policy briefs, quick insights)
- AGEnda Blog
In the fall of 2014, the Center experienced another transition as Dr. Marcie Pitt‐Catsouphes stepped down and the major center‐level funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation ended. Since then, the Sloan Foundation has continued to support the development of the Sloan Research Network on Aging & Work, a multi-disciplinary, multi-national network of researchers conducting investigations focused on different aspects of contemporary experiences associated with the phenomenon of “working longer.” In addition, the Center has reorganized around a core team that includes founder and senior advisor Dr. Jacquelyn James; co-director Dr. Christina Matz; founding director Dr. Pitt-Catsouphes; and several faculty affiliates, Dr. Kevin Cahill, Dr. Cal Halvorsen, Dr. Rocio Calvo, Dr. Erika Sabbath, and Dr. Joseph Quinn.
The Center on Aging & Work defines workplace flexibility to mean that employees and their supervisors have some choice and control over when, where, how work gets done, and what work tasks are assumed by which employees/work teams.
Over seventy-eight percent of the respondents to the Center's Age & Generations Study reported that having access to flexible work options contributes to their success as employees to a “moderate” or “great extent” and 90% reported that having access to flexible work options contributes to their overall quality of life to a “moderate” or “great extent.”
Further, a 2008 survey by Randstad found that flexible work hours are among the top three benefits employees identify as contributing to “happiness at the workplace”, with more than 4 of every 10 of the employees indicating that flexible work hours and increased paid time off are important, just after competitive pay and health insurance.
Surveys consistently find that a majority (70-80 percent) of workers aged 50 and older state that they expect to continue to work past the traditional retirement age; however, most of these older workers prefer to work in a way that is different from the standard 9-to-5, five-day work week. A 2005 survey of Baby Boomers conducted by Merrill Lynch found that 42 percent said they want to cycle in and out of work, 16 percent want to work part-time, and 13 percent want to start their own businesses. Only 6 percent want to work full-time, and 17 percent said they no longer want to work for pay (with 6 percent expressing other preferences).
Data from the Age & Generations Study suggest that respondents from Generation X and older Baby Boomers were more likely than the rest of the generation groups to say that having access to flexible work options contributes to their success as an employee “to a great extent”.
Workplace flexibility has been widely touted as essential in today’s workplace, having been positively linked to a variety of individual, family, and business outcomes. Data from the Center's Age & Generations Study suggests that having access to the flexibility needed to fulfill work and personal needs was found to be predictive of greater employee engagement, lower perceptions of work overload, better physical health and mental health, and greater satisfaction with work-family balance.
According to the Center’s National Study of Business Strategy and Workforce Development, 55% of respondent employees indicated that their organizations make a connection between workplace flexibility and workplace effectiveness “to a moderate/great extent”. Another study found that greater access to flexible work arrangements was associated with higher life satisfaction, fewer mental health problems, less interference of job and family life, and lower levels of negative spillover from job to home.
There are many different types of flexibility, including, but not limited to the following five broad categories of options:
- Flexibility in the Number of Hours Worked
Employer provides options for the number of hours one works in a given week, month or year. Examples include: part time work, part year work, job share, phased retirement, and having input into overtime.
- Flexible Schedules
Employer provides options with regard to work schedule. Examples include: frequent requests for changes in starting/quitting times, occasional requests for changes in starting/quitting times, compressed work week, schedule that varies from typical schedule, choices about shifts.
- Flexible Place
Employer provides options with regard to the location of work. Examples include: being able to work from home/remote site, or being able to select or periodically/seasonally change the work location (if the employer has more than a single worksite).
- Options for Time Off
Employer allows the employee to take time off, for either short or extended periods of time, so that the employee can meet responsibilities at work and/or at home. Examples include: paid leave for caregiving/personal/family responsibility, extra unpaid vacation days, paid/unpaid time for education/training, paid/unpaid sabbatical, and paid time to volunteer.
- Other Options
There are several other flexible work options that employers might offer that do not fall into any of these categories. Examples include: control over the timing of breaks, and allowing employees to transfer to a job with reduced responsibilities and reduced pay, if they want to.
When employees consider whether they should use different types of flexible work options, they tend to think about three basic questions:
- Would my supervisor and work team be supportive of my use of flexible work options?
Nearly two-thirds (61.7%) of respondents to the Center's Age & Generations Study agreed to a “moderate/great extent” that their team leaders/supervisors support the use of effective flexible work arrangements and approximately half agreed/strongly agreed that the members of their work teams were supportive of flexible work options.
- Do I anticipate that there might be any negative consequences if I use a particular type of flexible work option?
In general, 40.6% of the respondents to the Center's Age & Generations Study felt that there might be negative career consequences associated with the use of flexible work options (those responding “somewhat agree”, “agree”, or “strongly agree”).
- If I use a particular type of flexible work option, will it fit with my needs and help me to better manage my work and/or my family responsibilities?
A majority of the participants in the Age & Generations Study (58.7%) report that they have access to the flexible work options they need to fulfill their work and personal needs to a “moderate/great extent”.
The employers who participated in the Center’s National Study of Business Strategy and Workforce Development offered insights about factors that could make it difficult to implement and/or expand workplace flexibility initiatives. The top five barriers include:
- Concerns about abuse of policies (42.3%).
- Concerns about the reactions of customers and clients (41.2%).
- Difficulties with supervising employees working in a flexible manner (40.9%).
- Concerns about loss of productivity (40.6%).
- Concerns about treating all employees equally (40.1%).
Flexible work arrangements are currently available to varying extents in the U.S. workplace. A recent series of reports from the Center on Aging & Work's Talent Management Study show that the extent to which flexible options are available varies according to industry sector, employer size, and other factors, such as the degree to which employers feel pressure to recruit and retain workers.
In all industry sectors combined, "only one-third of employers (31%) felt they had established options for employees to work in a flexible manner to a moderate/great extent." Retail organizations offer flexible work options at a comparable rate with employers operating in all other sectors, with approximately 31% of employers having established flexible work options to a moderate or great extent , while in the manufacturing sector, only one in five (18%) organizations have established options that allow employees to work in a flexible manner to a moderate or great extent.
For more information about workplace flexibility from the employee’s perspective, check out our Issue Brief “Workplace Flexibility: Findings from the Age & Generations Study" (January 2009).
For more information about workplace flexibility from the employer’s perspective, check out our Research Highlight "National Study of Business Strategy and Workforce Development" (March 2007).
Or for more information about flexibility in general, please visit our publications page.
Quality of Employment
Employers understand that they have to offer quality jobs to their employees if they want talented people to work for them, rather than for a competitor (Mercer, 2007). The quality of employment is important to employers and their employees.
Organizations that want to become and remain employers-of-choice ask themselves: What will motivate employees (or prospective employees) to come to work for our organization, work hard for our organization when they are here, and want to stay working for our organization (rather than going to work for a competitor)?
Quality of Employment Framework
The Center on Aging & Work’s Quality of Employment Framework focuses on eight specific dimensions that are consistent with components of the employer-of-choice concept.
The interpretation of each of these dimensions of quality employment varies from workplace to workplace. Recognizing this variability, we provide some general descriptions and core elements of each aspect of the quality of employment in the second column of the table below.
Dimensions of Quality of Employment Framework
|Fair, Attractive and Competitive Compensation & Benefits||Employees' basic needs are securedm and fair and equitable distribution of compensation and benefits among empployees is promoted.|
|Opportunities for Development, Learning & Advancement|
Job skill development and advancement are promoted for employees of as many industrial sectors, employment statuses, and life/career stages as possible.
|Wellness, Health & Safety Protections|
Protection of employees' safety and health at their worksites is mandated, and their physical and mental well-being is promoted. In the case of job-related injury or illness, compensation or other forms of social protection are offered.
|Workplace Flexibility, Autonomy & Control||Availability and utilization of flexible work options are promoted for employees of various life stages through increasing their control over work hours, locations, and other work conditions.|
|Opportunities for Meaningful Work||Opportunities for meaningful and fulfilling work are available.|
|Promotion of Constructive Relationships at the Workplace|
Employer-employee frictions are mitigated, and constructive workplace relations are fascilitated.
|Culture of Respect, Inclusion & Equity||Diversity in the workplace and incluson of less-advantaged populations are promoted, and equity in work conditions is pursued.|
|Provisions for Employment Security & Predictabilities||Stable provision of employment opportunities for job seekers is promoted, clear communication of terms of employment is fascilitated, and protecting the job security of the employed is a policy objective.|
Our Four Core Strategies
Provide forums to advance the national and international conversation around aging and work and to work toward our vision of “making longer life a better life”
The Sloan Research Network on Aging & Work
Principal Invesigator: Dr. J. James
- Beginning in 2014, the Sloan Foundation provided funding for a research network on aging & work as a living legacy of the “Working Longer” program. The Network has now grown to over 250 researchers from 21 countries and 24 disciplinary perspectives. The major goals of the Network are to provide a forum for sharing members’ cutting-edge work from various disciplines, including psychology, sociology, economics, social work, and human resource management; and to develop a future interdisciplinary agenda for aging and work research.
- Our Faculty Affiliates partner with nonprofits, for-profits, social service agencies, and other community stakeholders to advance the mission of the Center.
Conduct and share cutting-edge research on issues pertinent to the mission of the Center
- Our Faculty Affiliates are conducting, translating, and disseminating research on a variety of topics related to the changing contexts of aging and work.
Use new technologies and novel methodological approaches to advance research and practice in the realm of aging and work to develop new solutions to persistent problems in this arena
- Our Faculty Affiliates are using innovative primary data collection techniques such as iPad minis, Ecological Momentary Assessment, MTurk, and Fitbits, and novel frameworks to conceptualize their work.
Offer opportunities for students to deepen their understanding of and connection to issues of aging and work using a social justice and innovation lens
Our Conceptual Framework
Advancing the national conversation around aging and work will require the efforts of many disciplines, including social work, economics, public health, psychology, occupational therapy, gerontology, and sociology; and stakeholder groups including individuals of all ages, practitioners, for- and not-for-profit organizations, community members, advocates, and policymakers. Indeed, the topic of aging and work is an expansive one, especially when one considers both paid and unpaid work. However, few integrative models or frameworks have attempted to bring together these diverse perspectives. With a new vision and mission, we are well-positioned to occupy this unique space. Our previous conceptual framework was well-suited to paid work, but less so to other forms of productive engagement. The conceptual model depicted below defines our intellectual space and informs our revised vision and mission.
The goals of this model are:
- to build a more holistic and multilevel picture of the aging and work landscape
- to guide interventions and future research on aging and work both within and across disciplines
- to articulate the Center’s alignment with the vision, mission, and values of the School of Social Work and the University at large.
(See article: Matz, C., Sabbath, E. & James, J. (2020). An integrative conceptual framework of engagement in socially-productive activity in later life: Implications for clinical and mezzo social work practice. Clinical Social Work Journal [special issue on productive aging], 48, 156–168.)