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Dispositional Optimism Fosters Opportunity-Congruent Coping With Occupational Uncertainty


  • The Jena Study on Social Change and Human Development (PI: Rainer K. Silbereisen) was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as a subproject of the Collaborative Research Center 580 “Social Developments in Post-Socialistic Societies: Discontinuity, Tradition, Structural Formation” (SFB580-04-C6). Maria K. Pavlova is a postdoctoral fellow at the Jena Graduate School “Human Behaviour in Social and Economic Change” (GSBC), which is funded by the Federal Programme “ProExzellenz” of the Free State of Thuringia. We thank Verona Christmas-Best for her useful comments on the article.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Maria K. Pavlova, GSBC, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Bachstraße 18k, 07743 Jena, Germany. Email:



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


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.


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.


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.