Lifecourse Patterns of Productive Engagement among Rural and Urban Older Adults

TitleLifecourse Patterns of Productive Engagement among Rural and Urban Older Adults
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2024
AuthorsSun, PC
Academic DepartmentSocial Work
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy in Social Work
Number of Pages123
UniversityWashington University in St. Louis
CitySt. Louis
KeywordsOlder Adults, rural, urban, Volunteering

Many older adults are engaged in productive activities that have important ramifications for
health in later life. However, little is known about rural-urban patterns of productive engagement
across the lifecourse. This dissertation used six waves (2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018) of
the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study to identify patterns of working,
volunteering, and caregiving activities over a ten-year period using multichannel sequence
analysis and cluster analysis. The antecedents of the patterns were studied using multinomial
logistic regression, and the associations of the patterns with longstanding rural-urban disparities
in cognitive functioning and self-rated health were studied using multiple linear regression and
ordinal logistic regression, respectively. This study found conceptually meaningful patterns of
productive engagement that varied by rural/urban residence and age groups. Furthermore, rural
respondents had a significantly lower likelihood than urban respondents of being in the pattern of
‘increasing high-intensity volunteering’ and the pattern of ‘decreasing part-time working,’ after
controlling for gender, age, education, marital status, race, religious affiliation, income, and
number of diagnosed health problems. Finally, the patterns of ‘increasing high-intensity
volunteering,’ ‘decreasing full-time working and low-intensity volunteering,’ and ‘decreasing

full-time working and high-intensity volunteering’ were significantly associated with higher

cognitive functioning scores in 2018; the pattern of ‘decreasing full-time working and low-
intensity volunteering’ was significantly associated with higher self-rated health in 2018; and the

pattern of ‘steady caregiving and decreasing volunteering and working’ was associated with
lower self-reported health in 2018. These findings may inform programs and policies aimed at
narrowing rural-urban health disparities and increasing the productive engagement of rural and
urban older adults.

Citation Key13949