Retirement and the Purpose Paradox

Bryn and fellow student working

Students

2019
Wharton

Faculty

Assistant Professor of Management

Project Summary

This summer, I worked with Dr. Samir Nurmohamed on his retirement study. The project examines the types of projects individuals pursue during retirement and how these projects are connected to well-being. All the data had been collected a few months before I got involved with the project and the participants had been recruited from the Pennsylvania member list of a national organization. In the survey, the individuals were asked to list up to ten of their core projects, which we defined as the most important projects currently in their lives. They then completed scales measuring the attributes of their projects (such as project interestingness and significance); their personal dispositions (such as proactive personality and core self-evaluation); and demographics. The participants were also asked to list a “partner” (a family member, spouse, or close friend) to complete a follow-up survey to give us a more objective view of the participant’s psychological well-being. Just under 1,000 members — both retirees and mature workers — across the state responded and we focused our analyses on the just under 300 retired and working individuals who had a partner complete the follow-up evaluation.

My first major task was to code the participants’ projects into three broad classifications (Individual, Interpersonal, or Collective) and twelve thematic categories. Later on, I added two more categories (Entrepreneurial and Work-Related) and divided up the Family/Friends, Health/Well-Being, and Monetary categories into “voluntary” and “obligatory.” Next, I ran analyses using the data from the participant and partner surveys to determine the demographic and contextual predictors of measures like subjective well-being, thriving, and purpose in life. I also participated while Dr. Nurmohamed and his colleague from Arizona State University, Dr. Edward Wellman, ran more complex analyses on how retirement status is related to engaging in different types of projects, as moderated by various dispositional predictors. I presented the preliminary findings from the study to the state office of the national organization at the end of my PURM experience.

I value this program for giving me exposure to the topic of retirement, a matter of great importance in 2017 as the baby boomers continue to retire, life expectancies increase, and health care costs rise. Particularly as a Behavioral Economics major and Psychology minor, it is very interesting to me how both organizations and society as a whole will adapt to the changes in the population makeup. My deepened knowledge on these topics will give more context to my future classroom experiences. Additionally, this summer allowed me to gain a much deeper understanding of statistics from using it in a real-life research setting than I had thus far, and I know this will benefit my continued education.