S1.3 A new old age? Historical changes in the conditions of aging-related processes
A new old age? Historical changes in the conditions of aging-related processes
Chair: Oliver Huxhold
Modern psychological and sociological perspectives on aging increasingly acknowledge that age-related processes are influenced by the socio-historical contexts in which they occur. Historical changes in the context have been thought to influence aging in a variety of ways: from changes in mean levels of available resources in the older population, to alterations in the distribution of resources, to changes in the relationships between key constructs of psychological and social functioning of older adults. Despite this, studies connecting historical development to outcomes at the levels of aging individuals are rather scarce in the gerontological literature. To demonstrate the relevance of studying historical changes in aging research, this symposium combines talks from four different institutions across the Western world: from the Netherlands, Germany and the USA. All studies are based on large-scale longitudinal data sets. Johanna Drewelies from the Humboldt University of Berlin shows that secular trends generalize to central psychosocial resources such as perceptions of constraints. Noah Webster from the University of Michigan examines age and cohort differences in educational homophily between individuals and their close social network members. Oliver Huxhold from the German Centre of Gerontology in Berlin reports historical changes in the relationship of having a romantic partner and experiencing loneliness. Finally, Bianca Suanet from the VU University Amsterdam shows how age-related developments in social network size of older adults differ between two birth cohorts, and will explore some potential causes of the observed cohort differences.
S1.3.1 Middle-aged and older adults nowadays perceive fewer constraints than those 20 years ago: cohort effects in the longitudinal aging study amsterdam (LASA)
Johanna Drewelies1, Dorly J. H. Deeg2, Martijn Huisman2, Denis Gerstorf1
1Humboldt University Berlin, Germany,2VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Background. Lifespan psychological and sociological perspectives have long acknowledged the role of historical and sociocultural contexts for individuals’ development. Secular increases favoring older adults in later-born cohorts are documented for cognitive performance and well-being. However, less is known about secular trends in further resources of psychosocial functioning such as perceptions of constraints and how these are shaped by relevant health, cognitive, and social factors. Methods. To examine these questions, we compared data from two independent local samples of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam obtained 20 years apart in 1992/3 (n1992/3=939) vs. in 2012/3 (n2012/3=873; age=55–65 years). Results. Results revealed that adults nowadays perceive fewer constraints than did same-aged peers 20 years ago. These secular trends remained after covarying for individual and cohort differences in physical health, cognitive functioning, social support, and self-esteem. Perceiving fewer constraints nowadays was particularly pronounced among the more educated and those who receive little instrumental support. Conclusion. We conclude that secular trends generalize to key psychosocial resources and discuss potentially underlying mechanisms and consider practical implications of our findings.
S1.3.2 Educational homophily and social networks: Cohort effects over time
Noah Webster, Toni Antonucci, Kristine Ajrouch
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
Background: Educational attainment has long-term impacts on access to resources such as social capital. This study assesses the education-social capital link by examining how educational homophily (a strong association) between focal persons and their close social network members varies over time and across age cohorts. Method: Data were drawn from the longitudinal Social Relations Study based in Detroit, Michigan. Participants aged 30-69 in 2005 who participated in Waves 2 (2005) and 3 (2015) were selected for analysis (N=448). Analyses were conducted separately within four age (at Wave 2) cohorts: 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, and 60-69. Results: Preliminary results indicate a positive significant association between focal persons’ educational attainment and the average educational attainment of their social network members. This effect was present over time and across age cohorts (b=.09 to .22; p<.001). There was greater educational homophily among the two oldest age cohorts (b=.17 to .22) compared to the two youngest (b=.09 to .17). Educational homophily declined over time within the very youngest and oldest cohorts, but increased among the two middle cohorts. Conclusion: Availability of human capital within social networks is shaped by historical context (e.g., cohorts) as well as age-related changes over time. Homophily may be an advantage or disadvantage. A more nuanced examination of when and how educational homophily acts as a resource is necessary.
S1.3.3 Historical changes in the relationship between partner status and experiences of loneliness
Anne Böger, Oliver Huxhold
German Centre of Gerontology (DZA), Berlin, Germany
Background. Romantic partnerships can fulfill a number of basic human needs such as intimacy and belonging. Accordingly, several studies denominated the absence of a partner to be one of the strongest predictors of loneliness in older adults. However, in recent decades being single may have lost some of its stigma. Furthermore, friends nowadays play a greater role in the emotional well-being of older people. Therefore, having a partner may have lost importance in the prediction of loneliness in recent years. Method. We used structural equations models to separate age and cohort effects in a sample of the German Aging Survey (DEAS) of adults aged 40 to 85 years (N = 6.188) assessed at two time points. We investigated whether or not the relationship between partner status and loneliness changed longitudinally within-persons and across historical time. Results. Singles were on average lonelier than partnered adults. The negative impact of being a single decreased, however, longitudinally with age. Additionally, the negative relationship between partner status and loneliness was stronger among earlier-born cohorts than among later-born cohorts. Conclusion. Our study provided some evidence that historical changes may influence how feelings of loneliness are elicited. Future research needs to examine the causes of these changes (e.g., decreased stigmatization, changes in social roles) more directly.
S1.3.4 Cohort-differences in age-related trajectories in network size in old age: Are networks expanding?
Bianca Suanet1, Oliver Huxhold2
1VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2 German Centre of Gerontology (DZA), Berlin, Germany
Background. Contemporary societal views on old age as well as a rise in retirement age raise the question whether patterns of stability and/or decline in network size as found in earlier studies similarly apply to later birth cohorts of older adults. Methods. Change score models are estimated to determine cohort-differences in age-related trajectories in network size. Two birth cohorts (1928-37 and 1938-47, 55-64 at baseline in 1992 and 2002) of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam are followed across four observations over a time span of nine years. Results. Age-related trajectories in network size differ between the early and late birth cohort. The late birth cohort makes large gains in network size around retirement age, but this increase does not hold over time. Increased educational level and larger diversity in social roles relate to the cohort difference. Nonetheless, cohort difference prevails even after adjusting for these factors. Discussion. The peak level in network size in the late birth cohort hints at stronger preference and more opportunities to gain and maintain social relationships around retirement age in the current societal structure and culture. The subsequent drop-off in network size suggests that these ties are mostly used to adapt to the retirement transition.