Historical Improvements in Well-Being Do Not Hold in Late Life: Birth- and Death-Year Cohorts in the US and Germany
Full recordShow full item record
AbstractOne key objective of lifespan research is to examine how individual development is shaped by the historical time people live in. Secular trends favoring later-born cohorts on fluid cognitive abilities have been widely documented, but findings are mixed for well-being. It remains an open question whether secular increases in well-being seen in earlier phases of life also manifest in the last years of life. To examine this possibility, we made use of longitudinal data obtained from the mid 1980s until the late 2000s in two large national samples in the US (Health and Retirement Study, HRS) and Germany (German Socio-Economic Panel, SOEP). We operationally defined historical time from two complementary perspectives: birth-year cohorts based on the years people were born (earlier: 1930s vs. later: 1940s); and death-year cohorts based on the years people died (earlier: 1990s vs. later: 2000s). To control for relevant covariates, we used case-matched groups based on age (at death) and education and covaried for gender, health, and number of observations. Results from both countries revealed that well-being in old age was indeed developing at higher levels among later-born cohorts. However, for later-deceased cohorts, no evidence for secular increases in well-being was found. To the contrary, later-dying SOEP participants reported lower levels of well-being at age 75 years and 2 years prior to death and experienced steeper late-life declines. Our results suggest that secular increases in well-being observed in old age do not manifest in late-life where “manufactured” survival may be exacerbating age- and mortality-related declines.