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Gerben J. Westerhof, Anne E. This article investigates the theoretical and empirical relationship between age identity and subjective well-being SWB in a cross-national context. Feeling younger than one's actual age is considered a self-enhancing illusion that contributes to SWB even beyond factors predicting age identities and SWB, such as health and Looking for herany age status.
As the United States is more youth oriented than Germany, age identities are expected to be more adaptive for American adults. Analyses using the pooled sample reveal that feeling younger than one's actual age is related to higher levels of life satisfaction and positive affect and to lower levels of negative affect, even when controlling for sociodemographic variables. Country-specific analyses indicate that the relationship between age identity and negative affect holds only for the United States. Age identities play a role in more varied aspects of psychosocial adaptation in the United States than in Germany.
It is concluded that the cultural context needs to be included more explicitly in gerontological theories and research. Western culture has been criticized for its celebration of youth and devaluation of old age Fry, Research reveals that older individuals are confronted with ageism on a daily basis. Levy found that older persons who were subliminally primed with negative stereotypes of old age performed worse on memory tasks, handwriting, and walking and showed higher cardiovascular stress than older persons who were primed with positive stereotypes of old age.
These findings document the incapacitating effects that living in an ageist environment can have for older adults. Whereas these effects are beyond cognitive awareness, individuals have been found to resist the internalization of aging stereotypes on an explicit level Zebrowitz, At least two aspects of these studies on SWB deserve closer consideration. First, most investigations are not well situated in the literature on SWB. As a result, the choice of measures is not always grounded in theory.
Also stemming from this limitation, most studies do not systematically control for social factors that may influence age identity, SWB, or both. Second, it is unclear how far the of these studies generalize.
As nearly all studies were carried out in the United States, typically using nonrepresentative samples, it remains unclear whether age underestimation has the same adaptive value over the adult life course in all regions of the United States as well as other cultures. Although Western cultures are typically seen in the same way with respect to the denial of old age, one might expect that there are differences between Western cultures as well.
For example, Filipp and Ferring found no relationship of subjective age with self-concept and life satisfaction in a German sample. Our study investigates the relationship between age identity and SWB among middle-aged and older Americans and Germans in two nationally representative samples. In the following, we first discuss the theoretical relation between age identity and SWB.
Next, we address possible differences in this association between Americans and Germans. Beginning with the study of Andrews and Whitheythere is a widespread consensus that SWB is Looking for herany age multidimensional concept, including cognitive evaluations of life in general i. These three dimensions represent correlated, yet clearly separable, aspects of SWB Diener et al.
The different patterns of relationships with other variables also document the validity of the threefold structure of SWB Westerhof, One might expect Looking for herany age the SWB of older adults is negatively affected by age-related losses of roles and relationships, age-related declines in psychophysical functioning, as well as widespread ageism in our society. Yet, research has found remarkably few age differences in SWB. Psychological lifespan theories have focused on the strategies by which individuals adapt to age-related changes in order to maintain a positive sense of well-being.
Heckhausen and Schulz also have argued that individuals can compensate for the negative implications of ageism by feeling young. This strategy might contribute to well-being as it belongs to the domain of positive illusions. The ability to maintain positive self-perceptions, such as feeling young, appears to be central to psychosocial adjustment throughout life. Hence, age identity is expected to be related to positive as well as negative dimensions of SWB.
Although Schulz and Heckhausen have argued that cultural variations in the use of adaptation strategies might exist, this issue has received limited empirical and theoretical attention in gerontology. In the following, we will discuss how orientations toward individualism and collectivism, which are considered one of the basic dimensions of cultural differences Hofstede,might be related to the use of youthful identities as a compensating strategy.
The somewhat less individualistic culture of Germany might result from a cultural history with a traditionally hierarchical and feudal structure of society, more formalized social behaviors, and relatively recent experiences with democracy Bode, Furthermore, Esping-Andersen describes Germany as a corporatist welfare state regime where health care and social security are more a concern of the state than the individual.
In contrast, the liberal system of the United States is associated with greater individual responsibility for health and social welfare. These differences in value orientations and accompanying social structures have implications for well-being as well as age identity.
Besides wealth, the level of individualism is considered one of the most important factors contributing to the well-being of nations Diener et al. Whereas the United States and Germany do not differ much with regard to wealth e. Individualism may be related to age identity as well. Individualism tends to be linked with the youth-centeredness of a culture. Compared with the German context, the American system places greater responsibility on individuals to plan for their later years and remain economically productive and thereby stimulates a higher value for youth.
In contrast, the German system generates more collective support, also for older persons. Although there is a trend toward more flexible life courses in both countries, the welfare state of Germany is more explicitly and formally age graded Dannefer, For example, Germany has a mandatory age of retirement 65 yearsand retirement is basically a single transition that is closely tied to chronological age Kohli, This stronger age-graded nature of the German system might make it more difficult to deny one's age. In addition to the stronger identification with younger ages observed among Americans in midlife and beyond Westerhof et al.
Positive illusions are expected to have a stronger impact on positive and negative aspects of SWB in a culture that supports self-enhancement and favors youthfulness to a greater degree. As both cultures appear to be youth oriented, but the United States more so than Germany, we expect that age identity will be related to SWB in both countries, but this relationship will be stronger in the United States than in Germany.
This survey was a random-digit dialing sample of noninstitutionalized English-speaking adults aged 25—74 years, living in the 48 contiguous states, whose household included at least one telephone. In the first stage of the multistage sampling de, investigators selected households with equal probability via telephone s. At the second stage, they used disproportionate stratified sampling to select respondents. The sample was stratified by age and gender; men between ages 65 and 74 were oversampled.
Respondents took part in a computer-assisted telephone interview lasting 30 minutes on average. Respondents also were mailed a questionnaire requiring 1. Three thousand thirty-two persons participated in both the telephone and the questionnaire phase of the study. The sample consisted of randomly chosen individuals from the population registers of cities in the Federal Republic of Germany. A face-to-face-interview of about 1. A paper-and-pencil questionnaire including several psychological scales, attitudinal items, and questions about chronic conditions was left with respondents.
They filled out the questionnaire on their own, and it was collected later by the interviewer. Respondents who returned the questionnaire did not ificantly differ from respondents who did not. We underscore that our study employs cross-sectional data that do not allow the determination of causal relationships between age identity and SWB.
Our models assume a causal order e. Looking for herany age age has been measured in the two countries with slightly different questions. What age do you feel most of the time? When a respondent's subjective age is younger than his or her actual age, a positive value is obtained; when subjective age is older, age identity has a negative value. We examine three dimensions of SWB identified in prior work: life satisfaction and positive and negative affect Diener et al. In the American sample, the life satisfaction measure was an adaptation of Cantril's Self-Anchoring Scale.
The German scale was linearly transformed to scores ranging from 0 to The affect measures in the American study asked respondents to indicate on a 5-point scale how much of the time during the last 30 days they felt six types of negative affect e. Respondents were asked to rate on a 5-point scale how much of the time during the last month they felt 10 negative affects e.
In both Looking for herany age, the mean frequency of negative and positive affect was computed. Nationality is represented by a dichotomous variable: Germans are coded 1 and Americans 0. Chronological age is measured in years. Gender, socioeconomic status, health, and marital and employment status are used as controls as they have been found to be related to SWB Diener et al.
Gender is coded 1 for women and 0 for men. Socioeconomic status was assessed by educational level and household income. Education is coded in the American sample using four : did not graduate from high school, graduated from high school, some college no degreeand graduated from college.
The Ausbildungsabschluss vocational training was included in this variable as many older individuals received their training only later in life as a result of the Second World War. In the MIDUS Study, household income was measured as the sum of five separate gross yearly income sources: self, spouse, Social Security, government assistance, and all other income sources. In the German Aging Survey, respondents were asked for their actual total monthly household income after an explanation of the different income sources that should be summed.
Respondents who refused to answer were explained the importance of the question and then asked to indicate which of 14 income applied to them. These respondents were ased the middle value of the category they chose. In both samples, missing values were imputed according to age group, gender, and educational level, and in the German sample also according to place of residence i.
This was done for The education and income variables were z standardized within each country. The mean of these z scores was computed as an indicator of socioeconomic status see Staudinger et al.
Marital status is controlled in the analyses; the currently married are coded 1 and the unmarried 0. A dichotomous variable indicating employment status also is added with respondents coded 1 if currently working for pay and 0 otherwise. Two measures of health are used: of chronic conditions and self-rated health. Higher values represent better health.
With use of the pooled sample, ordinary least-squares regression is used to assess the relationship of age identity with each dimension of SWB. Explanatory variables are entered in several steps to assess their unique relationship with SWB, controlling for variables assumed to be causally prior. In the first step, the dichotomous variable indicating nationality is entered.
Chronological age, gender, and socioeconomic status are added in the second model. Factors that may be influenced by one's age, gender, and socioeconomic status are entered Looking for herany age the third model: marital and employment status, chronic conditions, and self-rated health. Age identity is entered last to assess whether it contributes to SWB over and above the other factors.
Interaction effects are computed to assess potential differences between the United States and Germany in the relationship of age identity with SWB, controlling for the other variables. The interaction terms of nationality with the other independent variables i. When the interaction between nationality and age identity proved ificant, the regression equations were estimated in the United States and Germany separately.
T tests were carried out to assess the ificance of the difference between the regression coefficients Hardy, Missing values were imputed only for income. Respondents who had missing values on one or more of the other variables were excluded from the analyses. One thousand seven hundred thirty-six American and 2, German respondents were included in the analyses. Table 1 presents mean differences between Germans and Americans on all variables used in the analyses. ificant differences are observed for all variables except gender and socioeconomic status.
Compared with Germans, Americans report more youthful identities, higher levels of life satisfaction and positive affect, and lower levels of negative affect. They are younger, less likely to be married, and more likely to be working in the paid labor force. They also report fewer chronic conditions and better self-rated health. Our first expectations concerned the relationship between age identity and SWB, controlling for age, gender, socioeconomic status, marital and employment status, and health.
Bivariate analyses indicated that, as predicted, younger age identities are associated with greater life satisfaction and more positive and less negative affect. The correlation coefficients range Looking for herany age. Age, socioeconomic status, marital and employment status, of chronic conditions, and subjective health are ificantly related to the three dimensions of SWB. Gender is related only to negative affect, with women reporting higher levels than men. As age identity is ificantly associated with all other independent variables, it is necessary to control for these indicators in the analyses of the relationship between age identity and SWB.
The regression analysis of life satisfaction on nationality shows that Americans experience higher levels of life satisfaction than Germans Table 2. The second model reveals that older persons, women, and those with higher socioeconomic status report greater life satisfaction. Model 3 shows that being married and having fewer chronic conditions and better subjective health also are associated with higher life satisfaction.Looking for herany age
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Population of Germany , by age group