Victoria I. Michalowski, Denis Gerstorf, and Christiane A. Hoppmann
Aging does not occur in isolation, but often involves significant others such as spouses. Whether such dyadic associations involve gains or losses depends on a myriad of factors, including the time frame under consideration. What is beneficial in the short term may not be so in the long term, and vice versa. Similarly, what is beneficial for one partner may be costly for the other, or the couple unit over time. Daily dynamics between partners involving emotion processes, health behaviors, and collaborative cognition may accumulate over years to affect the longer-term physical and mental health outcomes of either partner or both partners across adulthood and into old age. Future research should move beyond an individual-focused approach to aging and consider the importance of and interactions among multiple time scales to better understand how, when, and why older spouses shape each other’s aging trajectories, both for better and for worse.
Alison Chasteen, Maria Iankilevitch, Jordana Schiralli, and Veronica Bergstrom
In 2016, Statistics Canada released the results of the most recent census. For the first time ever, the proportion of Canadians aged 65-plus years surpassed the proportion aged 15 and under. The increase in the proportion of older adults was viewed as further evidence of the faster rate of aging of Canada’s population. Such demographic shifts are not unique to Canada; many industrialized nations around the world are experiencing similar changes in their populations. Increases in the older adult population in many countries might produce beneficial outcomes by increasing the potential for intergenerational contact and exposure to exemplars of successful aging. Such positive intergenerational contact could counter prevailing age stereotypes and improve intergenerational relations. On the other hand, such increases in the number of older adults could be viewed as a strain and potential threat to resources shared with younger age groups. The possibility of increased intergenerational conflict makes it more important than ever before to understand how older adults are stereotyped, how those stereotypes can produce different kinds of biased behavior toward them, and what the impact of those stereotypes are on older adults themselves.
Social-cognitive age representations are complex and multifaceted. A common stereotype applied to older people is one of warmth but incompetence, often resulting in paternalistic prejudice toward them. However, such benevolent prejudice, characterized by warm overtones, can change to hostile bias if older adults are perceived to violate prescriptive norms about age-appropriate behavior. In addition to coping with age prejudice, older adults also have to deal with the deleterious effects of negative age stereotypes on their day-to-day function. Exposure to negative aging stereotypes can worsen older adults’ cognitive performance in a number of contexts. As well, age stereotypes can be incorporated into older adults’ own views of aging, also leading to poorer outcomes for them in a variety of domains. A number of interventions to counteract the effects of negative aging stereotypes appear promising, but more work remains to be done to reduce the impact of negative aging stereotypes on daily function in later life.
Li Chu, Yang Fang, Vivian Hiu-Ling Tsang, and Helene H. Fung
Cognitive processing of social and nonsocial information changes with age. These processes range from the ones that serve “mere” cognitive functions, such as recall strategies and reasoning, to those that serve functions that pertain to self-regulation and relating to others. However, aging and the development of social cognition unfold in different cultural contexts, which may assume distinct social norms and values. Thus, the resulting age-related differences in cognitive and social cognitive processes may differ across cultures. On the one hand, biological aging could render age-related differences in social cognition universal; on the other hand, culture may play a role in shaping some age-related differences. Indeed, many aspects of cognition and social cognition showed different age and culture interactions, and this makes the study of these phenomena more complex. Future aging research on social cognition should take cultural influences into consideration.
Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson was the first professional to describe and use the concept of ego identity in his writings on what constitutes healthy personality development for every individual over the course of the life span. Basic to Erikson’s view, as well as those of many later identity writers, is the understanding that identity enables one to move with purpose and direction in life, and with a sense of inner sameness and continuity over time and place. Erikson considered identity to be psychosocial in nature, formed by the intersection of individual biological and psychological capacities in combination with the opportunities and supports offered by one’s social context. Identity normally becomes a central issue of concern during adolescence, when decisions about future vocational, ideological, and relational issues need to be addressed; however, these key identity concerns often demand further reflection and revision during different phases of adult life as well. Identity, thus, is not something that one resolves once and for all at the end of adolescence, but rather identity may continue to evolve and change over the course of adult life too.
Following Erikson’s initial writings, subsequent theorists have laid different emphases on the role of the individual and the role of society in the identity formation process. One very popular elaboration of Erikson’s own writings on identity that retains a psychosocial focus is the identity status model of James Marcia. While Erikson had described one’s identity resolution as lying somewhere on a continuum between identity achievement and role confusion (and optimally located nearer the achievement end of the spectrum), Marcia defined four very different means by which one may approach identity-defining decisions: identity achievement (commitment following exploration), moratorium (exploration in process), foreclosure (commitment without exploration), and diffusion (no commitment with little or no exploration). These four approaches (or identity statuses) have, over many decades, been the focus of over 1,000 theoretical and research studies that have examined identity status antecedents, behavioral consequences, associated personality characteristics, patterns of interpersonal relations, and developmental forms of movement over time. A further field of study has focused on the implications for intervention that each identity status holds. Current research seeks both to refine the identity statuses and explore their dimensions further through narrative analysis.
Joseph A. Mikels and Nathaniel A. Young
The adult life span is characterized as a time of divergent trajectories. It is a time of compounding losses (such as physical, sensory, and cognitive declines) and is also a time of surprising growth (such as improvements in well-being and emotion regulation). These divergent trajectories present theorists with the paradox of aging: in the face of accumulating losses, how is it that as people age, they generally feel good and experience greater well-being? Theorists have grappled with this paradox and have focused on how motivational, cognitive, control, and social factors impact emotional development across the adult life span. These foundational theories have paved the way to a deeper understanding of adult life-span development, but they do not draw as deeply from theories in affective science. Some of the latest perspectives on emotion and aging offer integrative views, such as how older adults may experience different discrete emotion (i.e., anger versus sadness) from an evolutionary functional perspective. Other perspectives consider how an array of appraisal processes may change across adulthood (such as shifts in evaluations of self-control versus other-control for younger versus older adults). These newer approaches dig deeper into mechanistic explanations and underscore the need for greater theoretical integration. Later life is clearly a time of increased well-being, but the field is only on the cusp of understanding the mysteries of emotional experience in later life.
Kyungmin Kim and Yijung Kim
The parent-child relationship is one of the most significant social relations for many individuals. In particular, intergenerational ties to adult children often remain as one of the main social networks and sources of support provisions in later life. By reviewing the key literature on older parent-child relations, this article discussed the dynamics and complexity of intergenerational ties and their impact on the lives of older adults. First, we discussed theoretical perspectives that have guided recent research on intergenerational relations, including the life course perspective, and solidarity, conflict, and ambivalence models. Second, we reviewed the literature on structural aspects of the relations, including coresidence, proximity, and contact, and their implications for older adults’ health and well-being. Third, regarding a functional side of parent-child relations, we discussed the different types and implications of support exchanges between older adults and their adult children. Finally, our discussion concluded with the review of emotional qualities (i.e., positive, negative, and ambivalent) in parent-child relations and the factors that may complicate the intergenerational ties in later life. Our review revealed that the significance of parent-child ties remains with the changes in demographic, social, and cultural environments of our aging society, and the different dimensions of parent-child ties (i.e., structural, functional, and emotional) have important influences on older adults’ well-being, quality of life, and health. To better understand the implications of parent-child ties in later life, future research is needed to uncover the specific mechanisms by which different dimensions of intergenerational relations and health outcomes among family members are linked.
Cornelia Wrzus and Jenny Wagner
Over the entire life span, social relationships are essential ingredients of human life. Social relationships describe regular interactions with other people over a certain period and generally include a mental representation of the relationship and the relationship partner. Social relationships cover diverse types, such as those with family members, romantic partners, friends, colleagues, as well as with other unrelated people. In general, most of these relationships change in number, contact frequency, and relationship quality during adulthood and old age. For example, both the number of and contact with friends and other unrelated people generally decrease with advancing age, whereas the number of and contact with family members remain rather stable. Relatively little is known about longitudinal changes in the quality of relationships, apart from romantic relationships, because few longitudinal studies have tracked specific relationships. Some explanatory factors, which are discussed in the literature, are (a) motivational changes, (b) reduced time due to work and family demands during adulthood, and (c) resource constraints in older age. Future work on social relationships would benefit from increasingly applying dyadic and network approaches to include the perspective of relationship partners as well as from examining online and offline contact in social relationships, which has already proved important among younger adults.
Gerben J. Westerhof and Susanne Wurm
Aging is often associated with inevitable biological decline. Yet research suggests that subjective aging—the views that people have about their own age and aging—contributes to how long and healthy lives they will have. Subjective age and self-perceptions of aging are the two most studied aspects of subjective aging. Both have somewhat different theoretical origins, but they can be measured reliably. A total of 41 studies have been conducted that examined the longitudinal health effects of subjective age and self-perceptions of aging. Across a wide range of health indicators, these studies provide evidence for the longitudinal relation of subjective aging with health and longevity. Three pathways might explain this relation: physiological, behavioral, and psychological pathways. The evidence for behavioral pathways, particularly for health behaviors, is strongest, whereas only a few studies have examined physiological pathways. Studies focusing on psychological pathways have included a variety of mechanisms, ranging from control and developmental regulation to mental health. Given the increase in the number of older people worldwide, even a small positive change in subjective aging might come with a considerable societal impact in terms of health gains.
Well-being is a core concept for both individuals, groups and societies. Greater understanding of trajectories of well-being in later life may contribute to the achievement and maintenance of well-being for as many as possible. This article reviews two main approaches to well-being: hedonic and eudaimonic well-being, and shows that it is not chronological age per se, but various factors related to age that underlie trajectories of well-being at older ages. Next to the role of genes, heritability and personality traits, well-being is determined to a substantial extent by external circumstances and resources (e.g., health and social relationships), and to malleable individual behaviors and beliefs (e.g., self-regulatory ability and control beliefs). Although many determinants have been identified, it remains difficult to decide which of them are most important. Moreover, the role of some determinants varies for different indicators of well-being, such as positive affect and life satisfaction. Several prominent goal- and need-based models of well-being in later life are discussed, which explicate mechanisms underlying trajectories of well-being at older ages. These are the model of Selection, Optimization, and Compensation, the Motivational Theory of Lifespan Development, Socio-emotional Selectivity Theory, Ryff’s model of Psychological Well-Being, Self-Determination Theory, and Self-Management of Well-being theory. Also, interventions based on these models are reviewed, although not all of them address older adults. It is concluded that the literature on well-being in later life is enormous, and, together with various conceptual models, offers many important insights. Still, the field would benefit from more theoretical integration, and from more attention to the development and testing of theory-based interventions. This remains a challenge for the science of well-being in later life, and could be an important contribution to the well-being of a still growing proportion of the population.