Productive Aging: Examining Trends in Health and Employment Status by Age Updated

Derived from


Jennifer Roebuck Bulanda
Miami Univeristy
Department of Sociology & Gerontology

In this assignment, students are asked to use Census data and data from the American Community Survey to examine employment trends by age over time. Students use the quantitative information to document older adults' employment patterns over four decades, the percentage of older adults who have no health problems limiting their ability to work, and trends in employment status for both younger and older adults. Students then prepare a written report interpreting and integrating their results and writing about them in an accessible manner. In addition, students are asked to apply the results by making recommendations to a business and to a non-profit agency. This assignment was designed for and used in an upper-level undergraduate Sociology of Aging course. It is particularly useful in a sociology of aging or a gerontology course, but could also be useful in an introductory sociology or work and occupations course. Data nicely illustrate the concepts of a tripartioned life course, the standardization of retirement, and the health of older workers. The assignment can also be used to illustrate the potential for productive aging.

Learning Goals

After completing this module, students will be able to:

- Access and use data from the Census and the American Community Survey to examine the relationship between two variables.

- Interpret a frequency table.

- Interpret a cross-tabulation.

- Use information from a cross-tab to draw conclusions about the relationship between two variables.

- Write clear conclusions based on data, and support these conclusions with numerical evidence.

- Use findings from quantitative data on employment status to discuss implications for "productive aging" initiatives, civic engagement, and labor force participation in later life.

- Use quantitative data to document the tripartitioned life course.

- Apply quantitative data analysis to make relevant policy recommendations.

Context for Use

This assignment is used in a junior-level undergraduate course on the sociology of aging. The class size is approximately 30 students. Students are allowed to work individually or in small teams to complete the project. The instructor illustrates the website and practices accessing, using, and interpreting results with the students during class. After covering the related course material, the assignment is then distributed to students and they have three weeks to complete the project. The biggest challenge the students face is correctly choosing which way to percentage their cross-tabs. Additional time discussing this issue during class is advisable.

Description and Teaching Materials

Files available:

ASSIGNMENT - The full assignment for the project, including detailed instructions on accessing the data and completing the report.

GRADING RUBRIC - Sample rubric used when grading the project.

Assignment - PDF <

Assignment - Word <

Teaching Notes and Tips

It is especially important to demonstrate the use of the website and data with students during class. Students generally need a detailed explanation of how to use and interpret the data. This is particularly true for producing cross-tabs. Instructors should spend some class time explaining why it is valuable to look at a two-variable relationship and how to correctly percentage a cross-tab.


A rubric was used for assessment (see attached document).

File Attachment(s)