The value of personal control

Personal control is widely recognised as a fundamental psychological resource and a powerful influence on wellbeing throughout life. A sense of control in one’s daily life and social environment is particularly important during life transitions.

Personal control is widely recognised as a fundamental psychological resource and a powerful influence on wellbeing throughout life. A sense of control in one’s daily life and social environment is particularly important during life transitions.

Having a sense of control over one’s environment and life changes enhances wellbeing, whereas lack of control can be detrimental in maintaining a positive sense of oneself. It also helps to explain the different ways individuals and groups deal with adversity.

Recently, we have applied concepts on personal control to better understand the different impacts of voluntarily or involuntarily not working, on the wellbeing of individuals at mature ages.

Our article just published in the Australasian Journal on Ageing reported on workforce transition data over 10 years from the national Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey for 1,700 people aged 45–64 from 2002 to 2011. The research investigated yearly changes in health, wellbeing and welfare dependency, as people moved from paid work to unpaid work or early retirement, either voluntarily or involuntarily, when compared to others who were staying in paid work.

During the 10 years, about two-thirds of this mature age group were working, one fourth were voluntarily not working and a tenth were involuntarily not working. Most of the involuntary non-workers had been forced out of paid work due to their own or their spouses’ poor health or redundancy.

Health was found to be the primary and crucial factor influencing both voluntary and involuntary exits from paid work at mature ages. Those who were in fair or poor health had relatively little personal choice about working when compared to those with better health. Individuals who had poor health were at a higher risk of departures from paid work.

In our last recorded wave, only one-fifth (22 per cent) of those who had voluntarily left had returned to paid work, contrasted with around half (49 per cent) of people who involuntarily left paid work.People who had involuntarily left paid work were less financially prepared, hence had a stronger desire to go back to paid work. Only individuals who had good health were more likely to return to paid work after leaving employment.