May 17, 2021 | Press Release

The Feeling of Being at the Mercy of Fate is Stronger in Underdeveloped Neighborhoods

In neighborhoods with higher unemployment or where there is aircraft noise, older people feel less in control of their own lives. © photocase.com/Zauberbart

Neighborhood characteristics influence our perception of our ability to shape our own life circumstances and attain desired outcomes. That's what a team of researchers including MPIDR scientist Peter Eibich found through combined analysis of survey and georeferenced data.

Older people who live in areas with many unemployed individuals are more likely to feel like they are at the mercy of fate compared to others. One explanation for this is that the particular area where individuals live affect how they rate the opportunities they have to shape their own lives.

Objective characteristics of the neighborhood, such as proximity to a hospital, aircraft noise, or unemployment, are related to the subjective feeling of having control over one's own life. This demonstrates that where people live really does make a difference on their own outlook on life.

This was shown for the first time in a joint study by several research institutions, including the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) Rostock and Humboldt University Berlin. The results of the study were published in the international journal Gerontology.

“It is worth to build up an association or a neighborhood café”

The researchers used survey data from 507 residents of Berlin over the age of 60 who were interviewed as part of the Berlin Aging Study II, an interdisciplinary study investigating the physical, cognitive, and social conditions that lead to successful aging. The researchers combined survey participants' statements about how much control they felt they had over their own lives with georeferenced data about characteristics of their neighborhoods. They then controlled a wide range of variables that could influence the self-report, such as health status or social and economic status.

In their statistical model, neighborhood characteristics were then able to explain in some cases as much variation in perceptions of control among participants as demographic information on age and gender.

By evaluating this information, the researchers were then able to derive a direct relationship between the objective characteristics of the neighborhood and subjective perceptions of control over one's life.

“We conclude that, in addition to cognitive, physical, and psychosocial factors, neighborhood circumstances are key factors in feeling in control over one's own life,” says Peter Eibich. The Deputy Head at MPIDR adds, “In residential areas with higher unemployment or where there is aircraft noise, it is worth to build up social capital, such as an association or a neighborhood café.” Such community-driven initiates could give older people in the area a stronger sense of control over their own lives again, he says.

Original Publication

Drewelies, J.*, Eibich, P.*, Duezel, S., Kühn, S., Krekel, C., Goebel, J., Kolbe, J., Demuth, J., Lindenberger, U., Wagner, G.G., & Gerstorf, D.: Location, Location, Location: The Role of Objective Neighborhood Characteristics for Perceptions of Control. Gerontology. (2021) DOI: 10.1159/000515634 (*shared first authors)

Authors and Affiliations

Johanna Drewelies, Humboldt University Berlin

Peter Eibich, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany

Sandra Düzel, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin

Simone Kühn, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin

Christian Krekel, London School of Economics, London

Jan Goebel, German Institute for Economic Research, Berlin

Jens Kolbe, Technical University, Berlin

Ilja Demuth, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

Ulman Lindenberger, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research, Berlin and London

Gert G. Wagner, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research, Berlin

Denis Gerstorf, Humboldt University Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research, Berlin, Pennsylvania State University

Author of the paper

Deputy Head Research Group Labor Demographie

Peter Eibich

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The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.