For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Adult-Life Occupational Exposures: Enriched Environment or a Stressor for the Aging Brain?"

by Burzynska, Agnieszka Z; Jiao, Yuqin; Ganster, Daniel C (2018)


Demographic changes and economic demands of aging populations are raising the age of retirement. It is common knowledge that one’s occupation is associated with socioeconomic status, and also has a significant impact on physical and mental health. However, research on the long-term effects of employment on cognition and brain health in old age is still rare. Understanding occupational factors shaping our brains is necessary to develop interventions at the workplace, aimed at optimizing neurocognitive outcomes in old age. This review outlines the emerging empirical research on the relationships between occupational characteristics and cognitive and brain aging. We propose the “brain aging: occupational stimulation and stress” (BOSS) model that outlines the long-term interplay of antiaging (occupational stimulation or environmental enrichment) and proaging factors (occupational stress) on the development and aging of the adult mind and brain. The BOSS model outlines the mechanisms of the employment–brain relationships that include immune system, cortisol responsivity, neurotrophins, hypertension, and sleep quality. Existing at the intersection of organizational psychology, developmental sciences, and neuroscience, the BOSS model offers a framework for future “occupational neuroscience” research. We argue that decisions on retirement age should be viewed not only from an economic, but also from a public health perspective. We conclude that occupational activities need to be acknowledged as an important factor in lifespan cognitive and brain development.

Key Passage

In other words, fluid cognitive abilities (Gf: reasoning and thinking) decline in late adulthood, while crystallized cognitive abilities (Gc: acquired knowledge and experience) increase over the lifespan and may compensate for losses in Gf (Ng & Feldman, 2008). Declines in cognitive functioning, in turn, can be driven by a series of brain structural, functional, and metabolic processes. (p.4)


Retirement, Aged Workers, Development, Healthy Work, Cognitive Development, Cognitive Maintenance, Stress, Enriched Environments


Psychological Centrality of Work

Links to Reference



How to contribute.