TitleContext Influences on the Subjective Experience of Aging: The Impact of Culture and Domains of Functioning.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsO'Brien, EL, Hess, TM, Kornadt, AE, Rothermund, K, Fung, H, Voss, P
Date Published2017 08 01
KeywordsAdult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Aging, Attitude to Health, China, Female, Germany, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Perception, Surveys and Questionnaires, United States

Background and Objectives: Attitudes about aging influence how people feel about their aging and affect psychological and health outcomes in later life. Given cross-cultural variability in such attitudes, the subjective experience of aging (e.g., subjective age [SA]) may also vary, potentially accounting for culture-specific patterns of aging-related outcomes. Our study explored cultural variation in SA and its determinants.

Research Design and Methods: American (N = 569), Chinese (N = 492), and German (N = 827) adults aged 30-95 years completed a questionnaire that included instruments measuring basic demographic information, SA, beliefs about thresholds of old age, control over life changes, and age dependency of changes in eight different life domains (i.e., family, work).

Results: Analyses revealed consistency across cultures in the domain-specificity of SA, but differences in the amount of shared variance across domains (e.g., Chinese adults exhibited greater homogeneity across domains than did Americans and Germans). Cultural differences were also observed in levels of SA in some domains, which were attenuated by domain-specific beliefs (e.g., control). Interestingly, beliefs about aging accounted for more cultural variation in SA than did sociodemographic factors (e.g., education).

Discussion and Implications: Our results demonstrate that subjective perceptions of aging and everyday functioning may be best understood from a perspective focused on context (i.e., culture, life domain). Given its important relation to functioning, examination of cross-cultural differences in the subjective experience of aging may highlight factors that determine variations in aging-related outcomes that then could serve as targets of culture-specific interventions promoting well-being in later life.

Alternate JournalGerontologist
PubMed ID28854605