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Subjective well-being as a function of age and gender: A multivariate look for differentiated trends

Abstract

Studies on subjective well-being (SWB) suggest that its cognitive aspect, or life satisfaction, is positively correlated with age, whereas its affective aspect, often separated into positive affect (PA) and negative affect (NA), is negatively correlated with age. Gender differences in SWB are usually small. The present study attempted to explore these trends in an Israeli sample of 447 community-dwelling people aged 21 to 87, with special reference to relatively unattended issues as the effect of control variables on the affective aspect and the feasible age by gender interaction in SWB. The results showed that Cantril's Self-Anchoring Scale (SAS), Bradburn's Affect Balance Scale (ABS), and Neugarten et al.'s Life Satisfaction Index A (LSIA) were all significantly and negatively correlated with age. No significant gender differences emerged, but a significant age by gender interaction was found in SAS and LSIA. Controlling for personal variables (education, health, place of birth, and marital status) could wipe out the age effects on SAS and LSIA, but not on ABS. By the same procedure, the age by gender interaction could be wiped out in SAS, and substantially reduced in LSIA. The age effect on ABS was mainly due to PA, rather than NA. The results indicate the differential impact of personal variables on the aspects of SWB. Refering to the Israeli context, it seems that both cohort- and aging-related variables account for the decline of life satisfaction in the older subjects. Age-associated decline of affect is apparently connected to some other adaptive mechanisms, which regulate both positive and negative affect in old age.

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The preparation of this paper was supported by the Unit of the Psychology of Adulthood and Aging, Tel-Aviv University, Israel, as well as by the Institute of Gerontology, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, U.S.A. I am grateful to Jacob Lomranz and Richard C. Adelman for their help. I wish to thank Frank M. Andrews and A. Regula Herzog for their useful comments on this work. Correspondence concerning this paper should be addressed to Dov Shmotkin, Department of Psychology, Tel-Aviv University, Ramat-Aviv, Tel-Aviv 69978, Israel.

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Shmotkin, D. Subjective well-being as a function of age and gender: A multivariate look for differentiated trends. Soc Indic Res 23, 201–230 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00293643

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Keywords

  • Life Satisfaction
  • Negative Affect
  • Positive Affect
  • Significant Gender Difference
  • Personal Variable