Of the changes outside of himself which the aging person has to face, the loss of his occupation is usually extremely disturbing. The loss of a job through discharge, or the loss of one's daily work through retirement, may be sudden and carries with it the implication of economic dependency, unemployability, etc., only too often. In a woman, the loss of her occupation is usually also associated with complete disruption of routine and generally with the need of a serious social readjustment since it is often the result of the death of her husband and the loss of her home.
How important the mere routine of some activity may be, can be seen from the numerous instances of older people who find and maintain regular activities of some kind to substitute for the work they have lost. Minor chores around the house, walks to certain places in town, or meeting and inspecting the afternoon train each day assume a tremendous importance. It is as if this regularity itself were an insurance against all the dire but unknown danger which they feel threatening them. But the job itself has much more meaning than this. Our feeling of well-being is always dependent to some extent on how we judge ourselves and how others judge us on the basis of our accomplishments. We derive some of our feeling of well-being from our importance and the power we have, from the usefulness we feel, from the approval of others, as well as from the economic and social status which goes with our occupation. As we get older and the direct satisfactions of our physical, primarily sexual, drives lessen, we seem to depend much more on those things which heighten our selfesteem and which are often associated with our work. It is for this reason partly that older people are so insistent that respect be shown to them and so sensitive to any change which is likely to endanger their established position.
The reaction to the loss of a job will again depend on a great many factors in the person's previous development. It will also depend on how well he was prepared for and how much he had anticipated this particular change. If he was prepared for it, he may still resent it, become mildly anxious or depressed, but is likely to have something ready to substitute for his old work. It may be another, more suitable, job, or some hobby, or study or travel. His reaction and adjustment will also depend upon how much functional capacity he still retains and how much ability to change and to adapt himself to new situations remains with him. A baseball player who is old at forty is in an entirely different situation from that of a factory worker who is discharged from his job or retired at sixty or sixty-five. The baseball player has usually anticipated the end of his active playing days and has been able to prepare some plans for his retirement. He is still young and healthy enough to be able to adjust to some new occupation. The housewife who has lost the work in her home at the age of sixty-five will have fewer capacities for readjustment, especially if, as so often happens, she has withdrawn from social contacts, has limited her interests, and has devoted herself increasingly to her household as her years advanced. Our reactions to loss of job do depend to a very large extent on how rich our life has been before. The fewer satisfactions we had previously, the more disturbed we are likely to get. The fewer friends and interests and hobbies we have, the harder it will be to find a substitute for our jobs. The financial or economic status may make a considerable difference, especially in those people who have through their lives feared and combated an unconscious desire to be dependent and to be taken care of by others. Such people may become markedly disturbed by the prospect of having to succumb to this forbidden desire. Some people may finally give in completely and become excessively childlike, demanding of attention and solicitude now that dependency has become acceptable to them because of their old age.
To summarize, a person's reaction to the loss of his work will depend not only on his previous adjustment, most especially his need for selfesteem, but also on how suddenly this loss came upon him and on what interests and activities he can substitute for his work. During the critical period of readjustment, he will react, depending on his habitual modes of dealing with problems, with anxiety or depression, with irritability or ideas of persecution, with apathy, or at times with sickness. As you know, the reaction or response not infrequently is either a frank and obvious suicide or one which is less apparent but just as effective by means of a so-called accident, or a mysterious but marked and rapid deterioration of health. Luckily, most of the disturbances of readjustment are not only mild but also temporary.
With advancing years, social or interpersonal relations are apt to be changed by the loss of children, husband or wife, or of friends. The children grow up, become independent, move away, and the house becomes empty. This used to happen fairly early in people's lives, and the children did not go very far. The readjustment to it was then relatively easier. Now people marry later and children stay home longer, and both their occupations and their new locations are often much farther removed from the parents. The loss of children from the home is getting to be a problem of later years and therefore harder to cope with. When much effort and energy and interest have been concentrated on the children, the adjustment to their departure is also more difficult. Too frequently, children have special psychological meanings to their parents, which complicate matters. A mother may have transferred all of her affection from her husband to her children, or to some one child. She will resent and fight against any independent life of this offspring and strongly react to her abandonment by him. The father may attempt to retain his youth and to perpetuate himself and his power through his children and insist on their working with him to serve his interests. He will then become critical and bitter when they choose to do otherwise. These, and some other special types of reaction to the departure of the children from the household, are fortunately not too common.