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Keywords:

  • dispositional optimism;
  • coping;
  • social change;
  • job insecurity;
  • young and middle adulthood

Abstract

Objective

We investigated the relationship between dispositional optimism and coping with growing occupational uncertainty, drawing on the life span theory of control to assess coping.

Method

Participants were 606 German adults with various sociodemographic backgrounds, aged 16–43. They were interviewed at the end of 2005 (Time 1) and at the beginning of 2007 (Time 2). We regressed each control strategy at Time 2 on its scores at Time 1, optimism at Time 1, three moderating variables, and their interactions with optimism.

Results

Dispositional optimism predicted an increase in both goal engagement strategies (selective primary and compensatory primary control) only under favorable conditions (low regional unemployment rate, low perceived growth in occupational uncertainty, and high perceived controllability of this stressor). Specific conditions moderating the effects of optimism differed between the two engagement strategies. In addition, an unfavorable labor market situation as such prompted an increase in goal engagement. No effects of optimism on goal disengagement (compensatory secondary control) at Time 2 were found.

Conclusions

The effects of dispositional optimism on the change in control strategies were contingent on the labor market situation, which supports the view that optimists are better able to tailor their coping responses to available opportunities.