Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Richard Alba

Committee Members

Paul Attewell

Deborah Carr

Mary Clare Lennon

Subject Categories



labor force, employment, older adults, ageism, life satisfaction, Great Recession


Until the global economic crisis caused by the Covid19 pandemic, the Great Recession (GR) of 2007-2009 was the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression in the U.S. History. Previous research argues that older adults were relatively protected from the GR’s harshest impact because their unemployment rates were relatively lower compared to younger adults. However, the focus on unemployment rate as the ultimate indicator of a recession’s impact might have downplayed older adults’ experiences. Indeed, some studies showed that despite relatively lower unemployment rates, once unemployed, older adults took significantly longer to be reemployed compared to adults in younger age groups. Moreover, there might have been other types of labor force transitions during the GR which indicated economic vulnerability such as reduction in working hours. Additionally, the research on the sociodemographic determinants of older adults’ labor force transitions is very limited, obscuring the social and economic inequalities within the older population in the United States. This dissertation aims to shed light on the diverse experiences of older adults in the United States and asks who was protected from and who was more vulnerable to the negative consequences of the GR. I use longitudinal and cross-sectional data from the Health and Retirement Study and provide insight into older adults’ experiences with labor force transitions, perceptions of workplace ageism and life satisfaction during the Great Recession. Results underscored the heterogeneity within the older population and provided evidence that went against the general belief that older adults were “shielded” from the worst impact of the recession. Workers ages 60-64 and 65-69 were particularly vulnerable to employment instability and retirement in the GR. Older Black and Latinx workers were more likely to perceive workplace ageism compared to older White workers, precisely in the GR years. Older workers who perceived pressure to retire were more likely to retire and those who perceived their employers as preferring younger workers for promotion were more likely to become unemployed in the Onset period. Health was the most important predictor of life satisfaction and labor force transitions were not related to older adults’ satisfaction with life in the GR. Since the GR, the U.S. experienced another and more severe (in terms of unemployment) recession and findings from this dissertation can be used as a guide to investigate the impact of the Covid19 recession on the older population. Ultimately, older adults appear to be an important site of analysis for understanding economic and psychosocial disadvantages associated with economic recessions.

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