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A Q&A with Work, Aging and Retirement Editor, Mo Wang

Recently, we sat down with the Editor of Work, Aging and Retirement, Mo Wang, to discuss how he got involved with the journal and the plans he has in store for Work, Aging and Retirement in the future.

How would you describe Work, Aging and Retirement to someone who has not heard of it?

Work, Aging and Retirement is a peer-reviewed multidisciplinary journal that dedicates to publish evidence-based, translational research on worker aging and retirement, with the goal of enhancing understanding about these phenomena.

What is the most important issue in your field right now?

Currently, the most important issue in this field is to advance our understanding about how to achieve successful aging at work. To address this overarching issue, we need to reach more in-depth and comprehensive understanding about (1) how to facilitate and sustain longer working lives for older adults, (2) how to overcome barriers to reemployment in later adulthood, and (3) how to ease older workers’ transition and adjustment to retirement.

What led you to this particular field of study?

I have a joint Ph.D. degree in Developmental Psychology and Industrial-Organizational Psychology. Therefore, it is natural for me to combine my expertise in these two areas and study worker aging and retirement. I started this line of work in graduate school and continuously find it fascinating. Many worker aging and retirement phenomena are fundamentally intertwined with their specific socioeconomic and policy contexts. Changes have often occurred in these contexts over time (e.g., economic boom due to technology innovation, Social Security reform, health care reform, the recent economic downturn, and early retirement incentive practices), which can alter the research questions investigators ask. Accordingly, there are always new topics and issues that surface in this research field, which constantly pique my curiosity and inspire me to conduct creative research to address them.

In addition, this is a research field that a scientist-practitioner model thrives. Most of the time the research questions in this field map directly to issues emerged in the real world, whether at the socioeconomic level, organizational level, family level, or individual level; and the research findings have a good opportunity to inform these issues and eventually impact our day-to-day life. For me, this direct match between science and practice results in great meaningfulness and constant feedback. Therefore, the research itself is intrinsically motivating to me.

Why did you feel it was important to launch Work, Aging and Retirement?

The research areas of worker aging and retirement have become more and more important in recent years. Demographic projections have shown that by 2018, nearly 23.9% of the total U.S. workforce will be age 55 or older, almost doubling the 12.4% in 1998 and representing a sizable increase from 18.1% in 2008. This rapid trend of labor force aging continues to lead to a steady increase in the number of people who will transition into retirement in the next decade. These same demographic and labor force change patterns were also seen in data from other countries and regions (e.g., Western Europe, Japan, China, and India), suggesting workforce aging and retirement are of global significance with influence on the sustainability of economic and social development of societies.

At the level of the individual, worker aging and transition to retirement are major life changing events that pose significant adjustment challenges for older employees. These are important issues for workers, their families, their employing organizations, and society as a whole. In addition, the context within which employees age and retire has changed significantly in the past thirty years. For example, employees who retire now have to work longer to receive the full Social Security benefit than those retiring twenty years ago. This policy change has occurred not only in the United States, but also in other developed countries, such as Germany and France. Most employers in the private sector have also replaced defined-benefit pensions with defined-contribution plans, which put investment risks on the employees’ side. Employers are eliminating health care benefits for retirees, thus requiring retirees to rely on the much less generous Medicare system for their growing health care needs. Changes such as these have inspired more research to address questions and issues related to worker aging and retirement. Nevertheless, before Work, Aging and Retirement, there is no single journal whose sole mission is to publish research on worker aging and retirement.

Further, in the past decade, U.S. government and governments of other countries (e.g., the European Union, China, Japan, and Australia) have been increasing their research funding for worker aging and retirement research every year. According to AARP, this trend will continue and many private foundations (e.g., Sloan Foundation and American Federation for Aging Research) are following this path. Therefore, Work, Aging and Retirement provides a forum for the publication of research results from this increased funding investment. It also improves the focus of the knowledge dissemination, allowing findings from high-quality research to be collected in order to inform policy-related decisions.

Finally, the launch of Work, Aging and Retirement helps to address methodological issues in research related to worker aging and retirement, contributing to establishing and maintaining standards related to measurement, data analysis, and finding interpretation. Given the multidisciplinary research nature, the methodological issues in this research area are tremendously important for generating meaningful findings, comparing research results, and informing effective policy decisions.

How would you describe Work, Aging and Retirement in 3 words?

Multidisciplinary, multilevel, and multinational.

Tell us about your work outside the journal?

I am currently serving as the Director for the Science of Organizations (SoO) Program at National Science Foundation. In that capacity, I strive to fund basic research that yields a scientific evidence base for improving the design and emergence, development and deployment, and management and ultimate effectiveness of organizations of all kinds. I also conduct research in areas other than older worker employment and retirement, including occupational health psychology, expatriate and newcomer adjustment, leadership and team processes, and advanced quantitative methodologies. The general theme of my research is to unpack how people adjust to changes in their internal qualities and external environment to maintain productivity and well-being.

Featured image credit: Busy office space, © Rawpixel Ltd, via iStock Photo.

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