Subjective age and attitudes toward own aging across two decades of historical time
Psychology and Aging, 37:3, 413–429 (2022)
A large body of empirical evidence has accumulated showing that the experience of old age is “younger,” more “agentic,” and “happier” than ever before. However, it is not yet known whether historical improvements in well-being, control beliefs, cognitive functioning, and other outcomes generalize to individuals’ views on their own aging process. To examine historical changes in such views on aging, we compared matched cohorts of older adults within two independent studies that assessed differences across a two-decade interval, the Berlin Aging Studies (BASE; 1990/1993 vs. 2017/2018, each n = 256, Mage = 77) and the Midlife in the United States Study (MIDUS; 1995/1996 vs. 2013/14, each n = 848, Mage = 67). Consistent across four different dimensions of individuals’ subjective views on aging (age felt, age appeared, desired age, and attitudes toward own aging) in the BASE and corroborated with subjective age felt and subjective age desired in the MIDUS, there was no evidence whatsoever that older adults of today have more favorable views on how they age than older adults did two decades ago. Further, heterogeneity in views on aging increased across two decades in the MIDUS but decreased in BASE. Also consistent across studies, associations of views on aging with sociodemographic, health, cognitive, and psychosocial correlates did not change across historical times. We discuss possible reasons for our findings, including the possibility that individual age views may have become increasingly decoupled from societal age views.