Work-related education among older adults: case studies of selected older women in urban areas

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The demographic shift to an older population has led to a structural transformation of the labor force and rapid social change within American society. This, in turn, has given rise to the need to reassess the factors which facilitate and impede the older adults' interest and participation in work-related education (WRE).

More specifically, the research sought to discover how the older adult's perceptions of self, work options, the accessibility of work-related education (WRE) programs, the attitudes and support of significant others, and job market experience affect their expression of interest and willingness to participate in WRE. Key perceptions regarding WRE and their interrelationships were suggested by Rubenson's Paradigm for Recruitment, which helped me to generate questions, guide the interviews, and analyze data.

The interviewees were 19 healthy women, age 55 and over, who were living in a Southwestern Virginia city in which WRE programs were offered by public and private educational institutions. Interviewees were grouped according to financial and work status in order to examine how the women's perceptions varied by these characteristics. A qualitative methodology employing in-depth interviews was utilized to achieve the study's objective and to address the limitations of earlier research.

Findings indicate a strong, but conditional interest in WRE existed among women in the workforce, despite initial negative responses to a survey-type question. Interest and willingness to participate in WRE varied by type of WRE and grouping of the women by income and work status. For example, financially secure working women were only interested in on-the-job training while financially-insecure women would require training subsidies and job guarantees. Case studies revealed that the working women's experiences with age-discrimination was a major factor qualifying their interest in WRE. Financially-secure-retired women were not interested in WRE under any conditions. Definitional problems associated with the concept of WRE resulted in mis-perceptions by some of the interviewees and most likely, have seriously affected the validity of some past survey research in this area. To account for the conditional nature of interest m WRE, modifications of Rubenson's paradigm and recommendations to guide further survey research were suggested.

Data resulting from this study have implications for both the applied and theoretical aspects of adult education and gerontology. Resultant data augment the information available to educational policy-makers at all levels of government who are expected to respond equitably to the varied educational needs and interest of this diverse segment of the population. Senior employment counselors, human resource decision makers m companies, and employers of older adults may also benefit from the insights gained in this study.