Information

Do people feel emotions less strongly as they grow older?

Do people feel emotions less strongly as they grow older?

I'm specifically interested in whether or not their maximum ability to feel an emotion decreases as they grow older (so by that I'm meaning - let's ignore the effects of tolerance induced by life experience for now).


Deconstructing your question

  • There is a difference between the ability to experience an emotion and tendency to experience an emotion.
  • There is a difference between proportion of time that an individual experiences an emotion and the intensity of that emotion.
  • Obviously, you could take many approaches to answering this question. Emotions can be viewed from various perspectives including physiological, psychological, and behavioural.

Some empirical evidence

I did a quick search on Google Scholar for 'panas longitudinal study'

PANAS (see Crawford and Henry 2004, PDF for a a review) is a commonly used self-report questionnaire that aims to measure the frequency with which various positive and negative emotions have been experienced over a given time frame.

I found this interesting article by Kunzmann, Little, and Smith 2000, PDF called "Is age-related stability of subjective well-being a paradox? Cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence from the Berlin Aging Study".

The opening section of the article reviews the empirical literature regarding stability and age related trends in self-reported positive and negative affect. The following are a few interesting points from the article:

  • Costa et al. 1987 found correlations over 10 years for positive and negative affect of r =.42 and r=.43 respectively. I.e., there is fair amount of stability in individual differences in the experience of emotions.
  • When Kunzmann et al's review of the literature they cite several large scale studies that showed at the group-level no age effect on negative affect, although a couple of studies suggested their might be a small decline in negative affect with age. These studies varied in the years of life that were of interest, but typically looked at differences between early, middle and older adulthood.
  • Kunzmann et al also review the evidence for positive affect. The story sounds a little complicated with some studies suggesting a decline in positive affect and others not.
  • As I've seen before, it seems like cross sectional studies sometimes show bigger effects than longitudinal studies.

It's Common For Friendships To Change Over The Years

According to the study's findings, the average 25-year-old woman contacts about 17.5 people per month, while a man contacts 19 people, and this decline continues up until retirement. "People become more focused on certain relationships and maintain those relationships," said Kunal Bhattacharya, a postdoctoral researcher at Aalto University who co-authored the study. "You have new family contacts developing, but your casual circle shrinks."

Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford who co-authored the paper, also weighed in on this theory. "Women have this idea of a best friend, who is similar to a romantic partner . and women work hard at these relationships," he said. "Particularly with friendships, if you don't invest in them or see those friends, they will decay and quite rapidly drop." All that said, here are seven reasons that the older you get, the fewer friends you have, according to experts.


1. Be Thankful You Woke up This Morning

Not to start on a morbid note, but you woke up this morning. Some people didn&rsquot. Don&rsquot think of it is as a depressing morality tale, just use it to remember that you&rsquove won the greatest gift life has to offer &ndash you&rsquore alive.

It&rsquos so easy to dwell on the negative aspects of our lives, but we always seem to miss the most obvious positive thing we have &ndash life itself. Take a deep breath, look outside your window, and marvel at the world around you.


Do You Dread Growing Older?

Did you feel a slight dash of panic? Dread? Did your heart do a small jump? Did you think aloud “Oh no, I’m growing old!”.

There seems to be a lot of fear that surrounds the topic of aging. I just turned 25 this year (as of 2009) and a good number of my friends are the same age. By normal standards this would be defined as a prime age, but even then some of my peers treat the topic of aging and impending birthdays with a sense of dread. For peoples who are older, the intensity of the feelings get stronger. Usually, those in their late 30s or 40s resign in jest.

Gerascophobia – this is the fear of growing old or of old age. There are several symptoms, such as the following:

  • Irrational fear of growing old
  • Feeling of panic, anxiety, terror or dread
  • Physical reactions, such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling
  • Extreme avoidance measures taken against aging

I distinctly remember discussing about birthdays with one of my friends many years ago, and this heartfelt comment from her grabbed my attention: “I don’t want to grow old”.

But why? Why do people fear growing old? Why do people feel so adverse toward the phenomenon of aging?

Mention the word ‘aging’, and the immediate emotional connotations that get wired up are fear, sadness, negativity, aversion, helplessness and resignation.

If you have a fear of growing old, this fear may stem from the following factors.

  1. Being undesirable. Most see fine lines and wrinkles, frown lines, laugh lines, sagging skin, etc with a sense of negativity. These are linked with ‘ugly’. This seems to apply to females more often than not, thanks to marketers. They spend billions in advertising every year to reinforce negativity in the notion looking old, so it leads to continual sales for their anti-aging products. The anti-aging consumer goods category continue to grow yearly. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty movement attempted to move away from that, but even then we are still bombarded by the whole industry which is still entrenched in a certain notion of beauty.
  2. Sickness, pain, suffering. With old age comes increased probability of sickness, decreased physical ability, medical conditions such as dementia (Alzheimer’s disease), heart disease, cancer, etc. These are seen to come hand in hand with pain and suffering.
  3. Being lesser than who they should be. All of us have goals and dreams. When you were younger, you would have consciously or unconsciously envisioned yourself being somewhere at a certain age. It may be to earn a lot of money, achieve a certain amount of success and have a family. Reaching a certain age reminds you of your visions, and simultaneously triggers the realization that they are not where they want to be. This realization can be quite painful for some.
  4. Fear of Loss. Growing older comes with loss – seeing people pass away, losing what they have now, losing their youth, losing their health (see reason # 2).
  5. Being Alone. People see old people as a burden and they try to avoid them. For example, my grandmother is in her 90s and she has over ten children. When it comes to taking care of her, all of them try to shift responsibility from one another, giving reasons like they are too busy. Old age tends to bring solitude.
  6. Death. Ultimately, what’s the end of our physical existence? Death. People fear death. Death means losing everything we have. Everything we have built. It also means the end of our existence.

All reasons take shape from certain beliefs, which will take several articles to address (something I will do in the future). For the purpose of this article, I’m going to address the specific fear of growing old.

If you ask me what I think about the fear of growing old, I see it as an irrational fear, as with other mental fears.

Let’s say you fear growing older. While you may dislike what old age brings to you, what exactly do you achieve by feeling worried about this?

Nothing! Except you are left feeling more negative, worrisome, and unsettled. You don’t lead a better life. And you certainly don’t grow younger by being afraid of growing old. Not only did you just tire yourself out with the fearful thought of growing older, you relive it for real when you do grow older.

This is the same no matter how long you harp on this fear. Whether you spend 1 minute entertaining the thought, or 1 hour, 1 day, 1 month, 1 year or 10 years, you are still going to grow older. Time will pass, the sun will continue to set and rise, Earth will rotate on its own axis, ocean tides will rise and fall dependent on the gravitational pull from the moon. Flowers will bloom and wilt. Life will still go on.

And you aren’t the only person in this world growing older. Everyone else is growing older too. Leaders like Barack Obama are growing older. Celebrities like Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are growing older. Your friends are growing older. People around you are growing older. I’m growing older too. Same for every physical being living on this planet.

No matter what you think, say or do, you are going to grow older. It’s going to happen, whether you like it or not.

So instead of sitting there, scaring and paralyzing yourself with your fear, you might as well embrace it. Embrace that growing older is part and parcel of life. Embrace that lines are going to form, that your physical body is going to deteriorate, that you will eventually die.

Rather than fight it, accept that it’s going to happen.

When you come to terms with this, your perspective shifts to a whole different level. Because now, instead of trapping yourself with unconstructive thoughts and fears, you concentrate on what’s really actionable. Instead of thinking what you could have done before, you think about what you can do now. Instead of investing time in things outside of your control, you focus on what you can influence instead. Instead of living in an illusion, you start living your life proper.

Some questions for you to think about:

What can you start doing today to maximize your experience of life?

What can you start doing today that will make you feel better about yourself?

What can you start doing today to increase your happiness and fulfillment of your life?

What can you start doing today to really be ‘living life to its fullest’?

What can you start doing which will make you look back and think ‘wow, I can’t think of a better way to live my life!’?

Here’s some quotes on growing old which I enjoy:

“If wrinkles must be written upon our brow, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should not grow old.” – James A. Garfield

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Mark Twain

“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.” – Michael Pritchard

Don’t wake up one day only to regret having missed out on so many things in life. Don’t miss out on all the marvelous things that are out there in your life now, because you are too busy fearing something which is going to happen anyway. Don’t fearing growing older now, only to look back later in life and regret not having lived life the way you wanted.

At the point of writing this, I’m 25 (Update: I’m now 31 as of 2015, and my views on aging are still the same as when I wrote this post 5 years ago) and I focus on living every moment to the best every day. Some may say that it’s because 25 is still a young age, and things will be different when I’m older. Not from where I see it though. Even when I’m 28, 30, 40, 55, 75, 100 (if I physically live that long), I will still be living life the way I’m living now – passionately, fiercely, vivaciously, spontaneously, free-spiritedly, crazily, joyously, compassionately, enthusiastically, courageously.

Age is but an indicator of the number of years you spent on Earth, via your current physical identity. While there may be social connotations that come with it, but beyond that it really doesn’t mean anything much. Don’t get too hung up on the number of candles that will be on your next birthday cake – focus yourself on current moment you are in now, take action on your goals and dreams and start creating the future of your undertaking. Then will you truly be living your life to the fullest.


Growing Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality

Getting old isn’t nearly as bad as people think it will be. Nor is it quite as good.

On aspects of everyday life ranging from mental acuity to physical dexterity to sexual activity to financial security, a new Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends survey on aging among a nationally representative sample of 2,969 adults finds a sizable gap between the expectations that young and middle-aged adults have about old age and the actual experiences reported by older Americans themselves.

These disparities come into sharpest focus when survey respondents are asked about a series of negative benchmarks often associated with aging, such as illness, memory loss, an inability to drive, an end to sexual activity, a struggle with loneliness and depression, and difficulty paying bills. In every instance, older adults report experiencing them at lower levels (often far lower) than younger adults report expecting to encounter them when they grow old. 1

At the same time, however, older adults report experiencing fewer of the benefits of aging that younger adults expect to enjoy when they grow old, such as spending more time with their family, traveling more for pleasure, having more time for hobbies, doing volunteer work or starting a second career.

These generation gaps in perception also extend to the most basic question of all about old age: When does it begin? Survey respondents ages 18 to 29 believe that the average person becomes old at age 60. Middle-aged respondents put the threshold closer to 70, and respondents ages 65 and above say that the average person does not become old until turning 74.

Other potential markers of old age–such as forgetfulness, retirement, becoming sexually inactive, experiencing bladder control problems, getting gray hair, having grandchildren–are the subjects of similar perceptual gaps. For example, nearly two-thirds of adults ages 18 to 29 believe that when someone “frequently forgets familiar names,” that person is old. Less than half of all adults ages 30 and older agree.

However, a handful of potential markers–failing health, an inability to live independently, an inability to drive, difficulty with stairs–engender agreement across all generations about the degree to which they serve as an indicator of old age.

Grow Older, Feel Younger

The survey findings would seem to confirm the old saw that you’re never too old to feel young. In fact, it shows that the older people get, the younger they feel–relatively speaking. Among 18 to 29 year-olds, about half say they feel their age, while about quarter say they feel older than their age and another quarter say they feel younger. By contrast, among adults 65 and older, fully 60% say they feel younger than their age, compared with 32% who say they feel exactly their age and just 3% who say they feel older than their age.

Moreover, the gap in years between actual age and “felt age” widens as people grow older. Nearly half of all survey respondents ages 50 and older say they feel at least 10 years younger than their chronological age. Among respondents ages 65 to 74, a third say they feel 10 to 19 years younger than their age, and one-in-six say they feel at least 20 years younger than their actual age.

In sync with this upbeat way of counting their felt age, older adults also have a count-my-blessings attitude when asked to look back over the full arc of their lives. Nearly half (45%) of adults ages 75 and older say their life has turned out better than they expected, while just 5% say it has turned out worse (the remainder say things have turned out the way they expected or have no opinion). All other age groups also tilt positive, but considerably less so, when asked to assess their lives so far against their own expectations.

The Downside of Getting Old

To be sure, there are burdens that come with old age. About one-in-four adults ages 65 and older report experiencing memory loss. About one-in-five say they have a serious illness, are not sexually active, or often feel sad or depressed. About one-in-six report they are lonely or have trouble paying bills. One-in-seven cannot drive. One-in-ten say they feel they aren’t needed or are a burden to others.

But when it comes to these and other potential problems related to old age, the share of younger and middle-aged adults who report expecting to encounter them is much higher than the share of older adults who report actually experiencing them.

Moreover, these problems are not equally shared by all groups of older adults. Those with low incomes are more likely than those with high incomes to face these challenges. The only exception to this pattern has to do with sexual inactivity the likelihood of older adults reporting a problem in this realm of life is not correlated with income.

Not surprisingly, troubles associated with aging accelerate as adults advance into their 80s and beyond. For example, about four-in-ten respondents (41%) ages 85 and older say they are experiencing some memory loss, compared with 27% of those ages 75-84 and 20% of those ages 65-74. Similarly, 30% of those ages 85 and older say they often feel sad or depressed, compared with less than 20% of those who are 65-84. And a quarter of adults ages 85 and older say they no longer drive, compared with 17% of those ages 75-84 and 10% of those who are 65-74.

But even in the face of these challenges, the vast majority of the “old old” in our survey appear to have made peace with their circumstances. Only a miniscule share of adults ages 85 and older𔂿%–say their lives have turned out worse than they expected. It no doubt helps that adults in their late 80s are as likely as those in their 60s and 70s to say that they are experiencing many of the good things associated with aging–be it time with family, less stress, more respect or more financial security.

The Upside of Getting Old

When asked about a wide range of potential benefits of old age, seven-in-ten respondents ages 65 and older say they are enjoying more time with their family. About two-thirds cite more time for hobbies, more financial security and not having to work. About six-in-ten say they get more respect and feel less stress than when they were younger. Just over half cite more time to travel and to do volunteer work. As the nearby chart illustrates, older adults may not be experiencing these “upsides” at quite the prevalence levels that most younger adults expect to enjoy them once they grow old, but their responses nonetheless indicate that the phrase “golden years” is something more than a syrupy greeting card sentiment.

Of all the good things about getting old, the best by far, according to older adults, is being able to spend more time with family members. In response to an open-ended question, 28% of those ages 65 and older say that what they value most about being older is the chance to spend more time with family, and an additional 25% say that above all, they value time with their grandchildren. A distant third on this list is having more financial security, which was cited by 14% of older adults as what they value most about getting older.

People Are Living Longer

These survey findings come at a time when older adults account for record shares of the populations of the United States and most developed countries. Some 39 million Americans, or 13% of the U.S. population, are 65 and older–up from 4% in 1900. The century-long expansion in the share of the world’s population that is 65 and older is the product of dramatic advances in medical science and public health as well as steep declines in fertility rates. In this country, the increase has leveled off since 1990, but it will start rising again when the first wave of the nation’s 76 million baby boomers turn 65 in 2011. By 2050, according to Pew Research projections, about one-in-five Americans will be over age 65, and about 5% will be ages 85 and older, up from 2% now. These ratios will put the U.S. at mid-century roughly where Japan, Italy and Germany–the three “oldest” large countries in the world–are today.

Contacting Older Adults

Any survey that focuses on older adults confronts one obvious methodological challenge: A small but not insignificant share of people 65 and older are either too ill or incapacitated to take part in a 20-minute telephone survey, or they live in an institutional setting such as a nursing home where they cannot be contacted. 2

We assume that the older adults we were unable to reach for these reasons have a lower quality of life, on average, than those we did reach. To mitigate this problem, the survey included interviews with more than 800 adults whose parents are ages 65 or older. We asked these adult children many of the same questions about their parents’ lives that we asked of older adults about their own lives. These “surrogate” respondents provide a window on the experiences of the full population of older adults, including those we could not reach directly. Not surprisingly, the portrait of old age they draw is somewhat more negative than the one painted by older adult respondents themselves. We present a summary of these second-hand observations at the end of Section I in the belief that the two perspectives complement one another and add texture to our report.

Perceptions about Aging

The Generation Gap, Circa 2009. In a 1969 Gallup Poll, 74% of respondents said there was a generation gap, with the phrase defined in the survey question as “a major difference in the point of view of younger people and older people today.” When the same question was asked a decade later, in 1979, by CBS and The New York Times, just 60% perceived a generation gap. But in perhaps the single most intriguing finding in this new Pew Research survey, the share that say there is a generation gap has spiked to 79%–despite the fact that there have been few overt generational conflicts in recent times of the sort that roiled the 1960s. It could be that the phrase now means something different, and less confrontational, than it did at the height of the counterculture’s defiant challenges to the establishment 40 years ago. Whatever the current understanding of the term “generation gap,” roughly equal shares of young, middle-aged and older respondents in the new survey agree that such a gap exists. The most common explanation offered by respondents of all ages has to do with differences in morality, values and work ethic. Relatively few cite differences in political outlook or in uses of technology.

When Does Old Age Begin? At 68. That’s the average of all answers from the 2,969 survey respondents. But as noted above, this average masks a wide, age-driven variance in responses. More than half of adults under 30 say the average person becomes old even before turning 60. Just 6% of adults who are 65 or older agree. Moreover, gender as well as age influences attitudes on this subject. Women, on average, say a person becomes old at age 70. Men, on average, put the number at 66. In addition, on all 10 of the non-chronological potential markers of old age tested in this survey, men are more inclined than women to say the marker is a proxy for old age.

Are You Old? Certainly not! Public opinion in the aggregate may decree that the average person becomes old at age 68, but you won’t get too far trying to convince people that age that the threshold applies to them. Among respondents ages 65-74, just 21% say they feel old. Even among those who are 75 and older, just 35% say they feel old.

What Age Would You Like to Live To? The average response from our survey respondents is 89. One-in-five would like to live into their 90s, and 8% say they’d like to surpass the century mark. The public’s verdict on the most desirable life span appears to have ratcheted down a bit in recent years. A 2002 AARP survey found that the average desired life span was 92.

Everyday Life

What Do Older People Do Every Day? Among all adults ages 65 and older, nine-in-ten talk with family or friends every day. About eight-in-ten read a book, newspaper or magazine, and the same share takes a prescription drug daily. Three-quarters watch more than a hour of television about the same share prays daily. Nearly two-thirds drive a car. Less than half spend time on a hobby. About four-in-ten take a nap about the same share goes shopping. Roughly one-in-four use the internet, get vigorous exercise or have trouble sleeping. Just 4% get into an argument with someone. As adults move deeper into their 70s and 80s, daily activity levels diminish on most fronts–especially when it comes to exercising and driving. On the other hand, daily prayer and daily medication both increase with age.

Are Older Adults Happy? They’re about as happy as everyone else. And perhaps more importantly, the same factors that predict happiness among younger adults–good health, good friends and financial security–by and large predict happiness among older adults. However, there are a few age-related differences in life’s happiness sweepstakes. Most notably, once all other key demographic variables are held constant, being married is a predictor of happiness among younger adults but not among older adults (perhaps because a significant share of the latter group is made up of widows or widowers, many of whom presumably have “banked” some of the key marriage-related correlates of happiness, such as financial security and a strong family life). Among all older adults, happiness varies very little by age, gender or race.

Retirement and Old Age. Retirement is a place without clear borders. Fully 83% of adults ages 65 and older describe themselves as retired, but the word means different things to different people. Just three-quarters of adults (76%) 65 and older fit the classic stereotype of the retiree who has completely left the working world behind.

An additional 8% say they are retired but are working part time, while 2% say they are retired but working full time and 3% say they are retired but looking for work. The remaining 11% of the 65-and-older population describe themselves as still in the labor force, though not all of them have jobs. Whatever the fuzziness around these definitions, one trend is crystal clear from government data 3 : After falling steadily for decades, the labor force participate rate of older adults began to trend back upward about 10 years ago. In the Pew Research survey, the average retiree is 75 years old and retired at age 62.

Living Arrangements. More than nine-in-ten respondents ages 65 and older live in thei
r own home or apartment, and the vast majority are either very satisfied (67%) or somewhat satisfied (21%) with their living arrangements. However, many living patterns change as adults advance into older age. For example, just 30% of adults ages 65-74 say they live alone, compared with 66% of adults ages 85 and above. Also, just 2% of adults ages 65-74 and 4% of adults ages 75-84 say they live in an assisted living facility, compared with 15% of those ages 85 and above.

Old-School Social Networking. The great majority of adults ages 65 and older (81%) say they have people around them, other than family, on whom they can rely on for social activities and companionship. About three-quarters say they have someone they can talk to when they have a personal problem six-in-ten say they have someone they can turn to for help with errands, appointments and other daily activities. On the flip side of the coin, three-in-ten older adults say they “often” help out other older adults who are in need of assistance, and an additional 35% say they sometimes do this. Most of these social connections remain intact as older adults continue to age, but among those 85 and above, the share that say they often or sometimes provide assistance to others drops to 44%.

The Twitter Revolution Hasn’t Landed Here. If there’s one realm of modern life where old and young behave very differently, it’s in the adoption of newfangled information technologies. Just four-in-ten adults ages 65-74 use the internet on a daily basis, and that share drops to just one-in-six among adults 75 and above. By contrast, three-quarters of adults ages 18-30 go online daily. The generation gap is even wider when it comes to cell phones and text messages. Among adults 65 and older, just 5% get most or all of their calls on a cell phone, and just 11% sometimes use their cell phone to send or receive a text message. For adults under age 30, the comparable figures are 72% and 87%, respectively.

Religion and Old Age. Religion is a far bigger part of the lives of older adults than younger adults. Two-thirds of adults ages 65 and older say religion is very important to them, compared with just over half of those ages 30 to 49 and just 44% of those ages 18 to 29. Moreover, among adults ages 65 and above, a third (34%) say religion has grown more important to them over the course of their lives, while just 4% say it has become less important and the majority (60%) say it has stayed the same. Among those who are over 65 and report having an illness or feeling sad, the share who say that religion has become more important to them rises to 43%.

Family Relationships

Staying in Touch with the Kids. Nearly nine-in-ten adults (87%) ages 65 and older have children. Of this group, just over half are in contact with a son or daughter every day, and an additional 40% are in contact with at least one child–either in person, by phone or by email–at least once a week. Mothers and daughters are in the most frequent contact fathers and daughters the least. Sons fall in the middle, and they keep in touch with older mothers and fathers at equal rates. Overall, three-quarters of adults who have a parent or parents ages 65 and older say they are very satisfied with their relationship with their parent(s), but that share falls to 62% if a parent needs help caring for his or her needs.

Was the Great Bard Mistaken? Shakespeare wrote that the last of the “seven ages of man” is a second childhood. Through the centuries, other poets and philosophers have observed that parents and children often reverse roles as parents grow older. Not so, says the Pew Research survey. Just 12% of parents ages 65 and older say they generally rely on their children more than their children rely on them. An additional 14% say their children rely more on them. The majority󈞦%–says neither relies on the other, and 13% say they rely on one another equally. Responses to this question from children of older parents are broadly similar.

Intergenerational Transfers within Families. Despite these reported patterns of non-reliance, older parents and their adult children do help each other out in a variety of ways. However, the perspectives on these transfers of money and time differ by generation. For example, about half (51%) of parents ages 65 and older say they have given their children money in the past year, while just 14% say their children have given them money. The intra-family accounting comes out quite differently from the perspective of adult children. Among survey respondents who have a parent or parents ages 65 or older, a quarter say they received money from a parent in the past year, while an almost equal share (21%) say they gave money to their parent(s). There are similar difference in perception, by generation, about who helps whom with errands and other daily activities. (To be clear, the survey did not interview specific pairs of parents and children rather, it contacted random samples who fell into these and other demographic categories.) Not surprisingly, as parents advance deeper into old age, both they and the adult children who have such parents report that the balance of assistance tilts more toward children helping parents.

Conversations about End-of-Life Matters. More than three-quarters of adults ages 65 and older say they’ve talked with their children about their wills nearly two-thirds say they’ve talked about what to do if they can no longer make their own medical decisions, and more than half say they’ve talked with their children about what to do if they can no longer live independently. Similar shares of adult children of older parents report having had these conversations. Parents and adult children agree that it is the parents who generally initiate these conversations, though 70% of older adults report that this is the case, compared with just 52% of children of older parents who say the same.

About the Survey

Results for this report are from a telephone survey conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,969 adults living in the continental United States. A combination of landline and cellular random digit dial (RDD) samples were used to cover all adults in the continental United States who have access to either a landline or cellular telephone. In addition, oversamples of adults 65 and older as well as blacks and Hispa
nics were obtained. The black and Hispanic oversamples were achieved by oversampling landline exchanges with more black and Hispanic residents as well as callbacks to blacks and Hispanics interviewed in previous surveys. A total of 2,417 interviews were completed with respondents contacted by landline telephone and 552 with those contacted on their cellular phone. The data are weighted to produce a final sample that is representative of the general population of adults in the continental United States. Survey interviews were conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates (PSRA).

  • Interviews were conducted Feb. 23-March 23, 2009.
  • There were 2,969 interviews, including 1,332 with respondents 65 or older. The older respondents included 799 whites, 293 blacks and 161 Hispanics.
  • Margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points for results based on the total sample and 3.7 percentage points for adults who are 65 and older at the 95% confidence level
  • For data reported by race or ethnicity, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the sample of older whites, plus or minus 7.4 percentage points for older blacks and plus or minus 10.3 percentage points for older Hispanics.
  • Note on terminology: Whites include only non-Hispanic whites. Blacks include only non-Hispanic blacks. Hispanics are of any race.

About the Focus Groups

With the assistance of PSRA, the Pew Research Center conducted four focus groups earlier this year in Baltimore, Md. Two groups were made up of adults ages 65 and older two others were made up of adults with parents ages 65 and older. Our purpose was to listen to ordinary Americans talk about the challenges and pleasures of growing old, and the stories we heard during those focus groups helped us shape our survey questionnaire. Focus group participants were told that they might be quoted in this report, but we promised not to quote them by name. The quotations interspersed throughout these pages are drawn from these focus group conversations.

About the Report

This report was edited and the overview written by Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center and director of its Social & Demographic Trends project. Sections I, II and III were written by Senior Researcher Kim Parker. Section IV was written by Research Associate Wendy Wang and Taylor. Section V was written by Senior Editor Richard Morin. The Demographics Section was written by Senior Writer D’Vera Cohn and the data was compiled by Wang. Led by Ms. Parker, the full Social & Demographic Trends staff wrote the survey questionnaire and conducted the analysis of its findings. The regression analysis we used to examine the predictors of happiness among older and younger adults was done by a consultant, Cary L. Funk, associate professor in the Wilder School of Government at Virginia Commonwealth University. The report was copy-edited by Marcia Kramer of Kramer Editing Services. It was number checked by Pew Research Center staff members Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, Daniel Dockterman and Cristina Mercado. We wish to thank other PRC colleagues who offered research and editorial guidance, including Andrew Kohut, Scott Keeter, Gretchen Livingston, Jeffrey Passel, Rakesh Kochhar and Richard Fry.


Why Do Some of Us Worry More Than Others?

Worrying is something everyone does, but it is such a constant part of life for some that it has a significant impact on everything they do. Answering the question of why some people worry more than others is a career goal for many with a master&rsquos degree in psychology. Let&rsquos take a closer look at some explanations for why some of us worry more than others.

Default Mode Network

Some researchers and mental health practitioners attribute this heightened worry to the default mode network, a region of the brain that is activated when we are not concentrating on anything in particular. According to some experts, if the thoughts triggered by our default mode network are negative or fear-based, then pessimistic emotions tend to be felt when we don&rsquot have anything to focus on. Alternatively, when we are focused, the default mode network is effectively turned off and the negative thoughts are suppressed. Some people, however, may have an overactive default mode network, which leads their mind to constantly replay negative events or stimulate self-doubt. 1

Perception

Some experts contend that thinking that we worry more than the next person is based on a misguided perception. We may actually be worrying as much as everyone else, but it seems like they worry less because they don&rsquot talk to us about what worries them. While we are very aware of our own worries, we have a less accurate understanding of the extent to which other people worry because it&rsquos simply not discussed. 2 Outside of discussing our anxieties with a mental health practitioner, talking about our fears and doubts in public goes against societal norms.

Emotional Sensitivity

There are some psychology experts who believe some people worry more than others because they are more emotionally sensitive. According to the research, the more emotionally sensitive people are, the more they will find bad situations devastating. People&rsquos brain chemistry can actually change after they go through a traumatic experience, which leaves them wired to avoid the situation at all costs and can lead to more worrying and anxiety. 3

Stress

Other research indicates that increased worrying can be brought on by prolonged general stress, not just something traumatic. When we encounter a challenge, we release cortisol, which provides a boost of energy and focus. But some scientists argue that problems arise when we have excess cortisol in our body for an extended period of time. This can lead to a poorly regulated stress response that can cause strong and extended periods of worrying. 4 Stress experienced over time can lead to more worrying and anxiousness because our stress response is becoming less effective.

Something We Are Born With

Some psychologists believe that there are those of us who are born predisposed to worry more than others. They cite longitudinal studies that track children from birth through adolescence and adulthood to see how worried and anxious they feel over time. Several studies seem to indicate that babies who have strong reactions to novel situations tend to grow up to be more anxious. These high-reactive babies also have a hyperactive amygdala as they grow older and greater increases in heart rate and pupil dilation in response to stress, compared to others. 5 Although the research subjects all had different upbringings and different challenges in life, the data shows that those who were highly reactive as babies had a higher likelihood to worry more as adults than those babies who were less reactive.

As we have seen, there is no clear answer as to why some people worry more than others. It is a question psychologists and mental health practitioners continue to research. And it&rsquos just one of many questions you can address with a master&rsquos in psychology from an accredited online institution. With a master&rsquos degree in psychology, you can to apply your knowledge and research to real-world situations, or you can further your studies and pursue a PhD in Psychology. Regardless of which of these paths you choose, you can help answer questions about the human mind and behavior that can have a positive impact on the lives of many.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Psychology degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


The aging paradox: The older we get, the happier we are

Believe it or not, there are upsides to getting older.

Yes, your physical health is likely to decline as you age. And unfortunately, your cognitive abilities like learning new skills and remembering things is likely to suffer too.

But despite such downsides, research suggests that your overall mental health, including your mood, your sense of well-being and your ability to handle stress, just keeps improving right up until the very end of life.

Consider it something to look forward to.

In a recent survey of more than 1,500 San Diego residents aged 21 to 99, researchers report that people in their 20s were the most stressed out and depressed, while those in their 90s were the most content.

There were no dips in well-being in midlife, and no tapering off of well-being at the end of life.

Instead scientists found a clear, linear relationship between age and mental health: The older people were, the happier they felt.

“The consistency was really striking,” said Dilip Jeste, director of the UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging and senior author of the study. “People who were in older life were happier, more satisfied, less depressed, had less anxiety and less perceived stress than younger respondents.”

The results were published Wednesday in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Experts on the psychology of aging say the new findings add to a growing body of research that suggests there are emotional benefits to getting older.

“In the literature it’s called the paradox of aging,” said Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, who was not involved in the work. “How can it be that given the many well-documented losses that occur with age, we also see this improvement in emotional well-being?”

As it happens, Carstensen does not think this is a paradox at all.

In her own work, she has found evidence that people’s goals and reasoning change as they come to appreciate their mortality and recognize that their time on Earth is finite.

“When people face endings they tend to shift from goals about exploration and expanding horizons to ones about savoring relationships and focusing on meaningful activities,” she said. “When you focus on emotionally meaningful goals, life gets better, you feel better, and the negative emotions become less frequent and more fleeting when they occur.”

The authors of the new work also suggest that improved mental health in old age could be due to the wisdom people acquire as they grow older.

Jeste defines wisdom as a mutli-component personality trait that includes empathy, compassion, self-knowledge, openness to new ideas, decisiveness, emotional regulation and doing things for others rather than for yourself.

“As we get older, we make better social decisions because we are more experienced, and that’s where wisdom comes into play,” he said.

Another possible explanation for the emotional benefits of aging could stem from the physiology of the brain, the authors said.

Brain-imaging studies show that older people are less responsive to stressful images than younger people.

When scientists showed older and younger adults pictures of a smiling baby — an image designed to make everyone happy — both groups exhibited increased activation in the part of the brain associated with emotion. However, while a disturbing image of a car accident evoked a lot of activity in the emotional region of the brain of young people, older people had a much more subdued response.

Arthur Stone, a psychologist and head of the USC Dornsife Center for Self-Report Science who was not involved in the study, said that while the various explanations for the aging paradox are intriguing, there is still still no definitive finding that can explain the phenomenon.

“There’s lots of speculation about why older people are happier and having better moods even when their cognitive and physical health is in decline, but we still don’t have anything that fully explains what is going on,” he said. “It’s a big puzzle, and an important puzzle.”

Another important finding of the study is that despite our culture’s obsession with youth, it turns out that the 20s and 30s are generally a very stressful time for many young adults who are plagued by anxiety and depression.

“This ‘fountain of youth’ is associated with a far worse level of psychological well-being than during any other period of adulthood,” the authors said.

They noted that there are many pressures unique to this life phase including establishing a career, finding a life partner and navigating financial issues.

“It could be that age is associated with a reduction in risk factors for mental health,” said Darrell Worthy, a professor of cognitive psychology at Texas A&M University, who was not involved in the work. “Older adults may not have to deal with these stressors as much.”

The authors noted that the study does have some limitations.

Participants were contacted via landline, meaning the experiences of people who have only cellphones were not included in the results.

In addition, people were excluded from taking part in the survey if they had dementia, lived in a nursing home or had a terminal illness. That means the elderly participants were, on the whole, fairly healthy, which might influence their sense of well-being.

Finally, everyone involved in the survey lived in sunny San Diego. It is possible that aging in Michigan could be very different than aging in Southern California.

Still, Carstensen said the study had major implications, especially considering that within just a few years, more people on the planet will be over 60 than under 15.

“Policy leaders are saying, ‘How are we going to cope with all these old people?’ ” she said. “But a population who are in good mental health, emotionally stable, more grateful, and more likely to forgive are a pretty great resource for a society with so much strife and war.”

Do you love science? I do! Follow me @DeborahNetburn and “like” Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.


Study suggests people with neurotic personality traits do not enjoy growing older as much as peers, may need extra help

While most adult Americans report feeling more cheerful, content and other positive emotions as they reach their middle and later years, a subset who have more neurotic personality traits do not share in that trend toward greater satisfaction with age, according to a recent analysis by psychology researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Purdue University.

Led by Rebecca Ready, UMass Amherst assistant professor of psychology, and her graduate student Anna Akerstedt, with Daniel Mroczek at Purdue, the analysis suggests that neuroticism may be a liability for older adults not only because they are less content but because their "negative affect" is associated with poorer mental health.

The researchers suggest that psychological theories about emotional change over time and clinical practice could do more to help enrich adults’ lives by taking into account individual personality differences such as neuroticism. Results appear in the current issue of the journal Aging and Mental Health.

Ready and colleagues analyzed data collected at two points about 10 years apart from 1,503 men and women who participated in the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS I and II) studies. "People who score high on a neuroticism scale had less mental well-being over time and this pattern was stronger for older and midlife adults than for younger persons. We feel further study may yield a better understanding of how to intervene in this process. This might provide tools to guard against late-life depressive symptoms," Ready says.

Psychology views neuroticism as a fairly stable personality trait that occurs on a continuum. People who score higher describe themselves more often as nervous, sad, upset and feeling hopeless or worthless. By contrast, people who score low in neuroticism report less often feeling tense, sad or worried. They don’t say they are happier, but they do say they feel calm, satisfied and not stressed.

Ready and her colleagues point out that despite the wealth of data available on neuroticism, emotion and aging, little is known about how these variables interact over time, as people grow older. They set out to address this gap in understanding and to explore whether an individual’s neuroticism score at baseline predicted emotional complexity and emotional well-being 10 years later.

Participants were selected from among 2,257 people 25 to 74 years old who took part in the MIDUS I study in 1995-1996 as well as the follow-up study in 2004-2006. Respondents completed two mail-in questionnaires and a 30-minute phone interview at each time point. Those with missing data or who didn’t answer the questions needed for this analysis were excluded, leaving 1,503 in the final sample. They were 90 percent white, 55 percent female and most, 68.7 percent, were married at baseline.

The researchers assessed the trait of neuroticism with a four-item scale at MIDUS I and II. It asked how often subjects felt moody, worried or nervous, for example. Ten years later, different items were used to code individuals as having positive or negative emotions by asking how often they felt sad, restless/fidgety, hopeless, everything was an effort, worthless, afraid, jittery, irritable, ashamed and upset as well as attentive, proud and active.

Overall, using moderated multiple regressions, Ready and colleagues found that neuroticism was significantly and negatively associated with emotional well-being while age was significantly and positively associated with emotional well-being. The interaction between age and neuroticism in predicting emotional well-being was significant.

A major finding was that "neuroticism is more strongly linked to emotion outcomes for older than younger persons," they add. On average, neuroticism tends to decrease during adult development, but not at the same rate for everyone, Ready points out. "Such decreases may result in better, broader and richer emotional experiences in later life. This hypothesis is supported by results of the current study."

Older and midlife adults who are as high on the neuroticism scale as younger people might be helped by early interventions to improve emotional well-being, Ready adds. "We did not assess risk for future depressive disorders but it is reasonable to speculate that older and midlife adults high in neuroticism are at greater risk for depressive symptoms in the future than are persons lower in neuroticism. They may also experience less well-being and may have less tolerance for complex emotions."

The authors say more research is needed to explore how and why some older adults do not conform to normative developmental trajectories to provide a fuller understanding of emotional development and how to help people achieve optimal outcomes as they mature.


Need for More Geropsychologists

Out of 32,183 full-time doctoral students, 140 or 0.4 percent are in programs specializing in aging.

Out of 32,789 APA members who are practicing psychologists, 589 or about 2 percent say their major field is geropsychology (APA Research Office, 2004).

Geropsychologists use behaviorally-based treatments to address primary mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. They also offer assistance to older adults in coping with the psychological and emotional consequences of illness, loss of loved ones, relocation to new living situations and care giving demands.

Geropsychologists address a variety of behavioral health issues such as managing cognitive impairments (including Alzheimer’s disease), urinary incontinence (a leading reason for nursing home admissions) and insomnia that significantly impact the quality of life of older adults. In addition, behavioral changes are often required to ensure compliance with medication regimens and to manage chronic health conditions.

Geropsychologists apply the knowledge and techniques of psychology to help older persons and their families maintain well being, improve quality of life, overcome problems, and achieve maximum potential during later life (APA White Paper).

Geropsychologists provide prevention, assessment, consultation and intervention services for psychological adaptations in later life (e.g., adapting to age-related changes, bereavement), psychopathology (e.g., dementia, depression), behavioral problems (e.g., medication compliance, incontinence) and problems in daily living (e.g., marital problems, family discord, financial stressors) (APA White Paper).

Geropsychologists work with older adults in a variety of settings reflecting a continuum of care that at its best is interdisciplinary. The settings include home, community (e.g., mental health or health care clinics, private practitioners’ offices, adult day care), hospitals/rehabilitation centers and long term care facilities (nursing homes, assisted living facilities).


Method

Participants

The initial sample consisted of 184 English-speaking participants recruited by a survey research firm located in the San Francisco Bay area in 1993 and 1995. Because the methods were relatively demanding and we were interested in normal aging, we instructed the firm to restrict recruitment to participants who reported that their health was 𠇊s good or better than most people their age.” The sample was restricted to two ethnic groups in order to allow for statistically meaningful analyses of two subsamples: 31% of the participants were African American and the remaining 69% were European American. Fifty-four percent of participants were women and 46% were men 41% of participants were blue-collar workers and 59% were white-collar workers. 1 Education ranged from 5 to 22 years (M = 15.0, SD = 2.7). Participants ranged in age from 18 to 94 years (M = 55, SD = 20.4). Importantly, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status were stratified across age.

Following an initial wave of data collection (1993�), two subsequent waves of data were collected at 5-year intervals (Wave 2, 1998� Wave 3, 2004�) in a burst design. At each wave, additional participants were recruited to replace those lost to attrition as well as a new group of young people to replace those who aged out of the youngest group. 2 A total of 191 participants completed Wave 2 and 178 participants completed Wave 3. The sociodemographic composition of the samples did not differ across waves (see Table 1 for details).

Table 1

Demographic Characteristics of the Sample

Characteristic StatisticSample description
Wave 1 (n = 184)Wave 2 (n = 191)Wave 3 (n = 178)
Mean age (SD)54.83 (20.57)55.62 (22.05)57.33 (21.34)
Age range18.0�.018.0�.018.0�.0
Mean years of education (SD)14.77 (2.85)15.17 (2.62)15.47 (2.43)
Sex54% women53% women53% women
46% men47% men47% men
Ethnicity31% African American31% African American29% African American
69% European American69% European American71% European American
Socioeconomic status41% blue-collar37% blue-collar39% blue-collar
59% white-collar63% white-collar61% white-collar
Mean number of children (SD)1.60 (1.61)1.54 (1.48)1.56 (1.34)

In order to address selective attrition, we compared participants who were retained from one wave to the next with those who did not continue participating. As is typical in longitudinal studies, retained participants were more likely to be European American, χ 2 (1, 218) = 4.21, p <.05, and to have more years of education, M = 15.31 vs. 14.52, t(375) = 2.80, p <.01. We performed the same analyses excluding those participants who had died between waves and these differences remained significant. Otherwise, there were no differences by age, gender, socioeconomic status, or health (all ps > .20) in the composition of the samples across waves.

Since the commencement of the first wave of data collection, information about mortality has been obtained from the Social Security Death Index database at regular intervals, and death certificates with information on date and cause of death have been obtained from the Office of Vital Statistics. In the fall of 2009, roughly 15 years after study initiation, 61 participants originally recruited in Wave 1 had died (all from natural causes) and 123 participants were still alive.

Procedure

Following screening by the survey research firm, participants were scheduled at their convenience for an initial interview at Stanford University or at the offices of the San Francisco-based survey research firm that did the initial recruiting (Wave 1). At Waves 2 and 3, participants who were unable to come to Stanford due to poor health or lack of transportation were interviewed in their homes or in a private meeting room at the San Francisco Public Library. Participants were informed that the purpose of the study was to examine feelings in everyday life. After obtaining informed consent and background information, such as education level, the participants completed questionnaires that assessed physical health, personality, happiness, and cognitive ability.

At that point, participants were provided with detailed instructions about the experimental procedures. Then they were given an electronic pager, were familiarized with the operations of the pager (e.g., how to set it for vibration or sound, how to indicate that they had received the page by pushing a button, etc.), and were instructed to complete the emotion response sheets each time they were paged. During the ensuing week, participants were paged five times each day. Paging times were determined by random selections from all possible 10-min intervals between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. The only constraint on sampling times was that participants were not sampled more than once within a single 20-min period. At the end of each day, participants returned the five completed response sheets by mail in pre-addressed stamped envelopes, allowing us to monitor responses during the data collection period and assure adherence to the experimental protocol. Participants were encouraged to telephone the laboratory if procedural questions or problems arose, and periodic calls were made to participants as well to ensure that they were not having any difficulty with the procedure. After participants completed the week-long experience-sampling data collection, they returned to the laboratory for a follow-up interview, at which time they were debriefed and paid for their participation.

Materials

Emotion sampling

Participants rated the degree to which they were feeling each of 19 emotions using a 7-point scale that ranged from 1 (not at all) to 7 (extremely). The list of emotions included 8 positive (happiness, joy, contentment, excitement, pride, accomplishment, interest, and amusement) and 11 negative emotions (anger, sadness, fear, disgust, guilt, embarrassment, shame, anxiety, irritation, frustration, and boredom). Thirty-five daily samplers (5 per day, 7 days) were bound into an 8.5 in. by 5.5 in. pad to allow for easy transport during the week of paging.

Cornell Medical Index (CMI)

The CMI (Brodman, Erdmann, & Wolff, 1956) is a 195-item index of physical and mental health problems that allows for the computation of a general health index, as well as subscales that represent particular subsystems (e.g., vision, allergies, cardiovascular, neurological, etc.). Participants answer 195 questions about family history and symptoms they have experienced. We computed one index representing the total number of symptoms of physical illness (e.g., 𠇊re you troubled by constant coughing?).

Verbal fluency

Participants are asked to name as many different types of animals as possible within 90 seconds. This test shows a strong association with general intellectual ability and has been extensively used with older adults (Lindenberger, Mayr, & Kliegl, 1993).

Happiness

Participants indicated their current level of happiness by completing the 4-item Subjective Happiness Scale (Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999). Participants indicate on a 7-point Likert-scale how generally happy they are (1 = not a very happy person, 7 = a very happy person) and how happy they are relative to their peers (1 = less happy, 7 = more happy). Two additional items require participants to indicate the extent to which a description of a “very happy” and a “very unhappy” person, respectively, characterizes them (1 = not at all, 7 = a great deal). The fourth item is reversed scored and higher scores for the overall scale indicate greater subjective happiness.

Personality

At Wave 1, personality was assessed using a list of 54 adjectives representing the Big Five factors of personality presented in the form of self-descriptive sentences (John & Srivastava, 1999). At Waves 2 and 3, these personality dimensions were assessed using the 60-item NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI Costa & McCrae, 1992). We computed scores for each of the Big Five factors: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. Personality scores for the three waves were Z-standardized and aggregated across waves, yielding five time-invariant personality scores for each person that were used as covariates in growth curve analyses.


Need for More Geropsychologists

Out of 32,183 full-time doctoral students, 140 or 0.4 percent are in programs specializing in aging.

Out of 32,789 APA members who are practicing psychologists, 589 or about 2 percent say their major field is geropsychology (APA Research Office, 2004).

Geropsychologists use behaviorally-based treatments to address primary mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. They also offer assistance to older adults in coping with the psychological and emotional consequences of illness, loss of loved ones, relocation to new living situations and care giving demands.

Geropsychologists address a variety of behavioral health issues such as managing cognitive impairments (including Alzheimer’s disease), urinary incontinence (a leading reason for nursing home admissions) and insomnia that significantly impact the quality of life of older adults. In addition, behavioral changes are often required to ensure compliance with medication regimens and to manage chronic health conditions.

Geropsychologists apply the knowledge and techniques of psychology to help older persons and their families maintain well being, improve quality of life, overcome problems, and achieve maximum potential during later life (APA White Paper).

Geropsychologists provide prevention, assessment, consultation and intervention services for psychological adaptations in later life (e.g., adapting to age-related changes, bereavement), psychopathology (e.g., dementia, depression), behavioral problems (e.g., medication compliance, incontinence) and problems in daily living (e.g., marital problems, family discord, financial stressors) (APA White Paper).

Geropsychologists work with older adults in a variety of settings reflecting a continuum of care that at its best is interdisciplinary. The settings include home, community (e.g., mental health or health care clinics, private practitioners’ offices, adult day care), hospitals/rehabilitation centers and long term care facilities (nursing homes, assisted living facilities).


Do You Dread Growing Older?

Did you feel a slight dash of panic? Dread? Did your heart do a small jump? Did you think aloud “Oh no, I’m growing old!”.

There seems to be a lot of fear that surrounds the topic of aging. I just turned 25 this year (as of 2009) and a good number of my friends are the same age. By normal standards this would be defined as a prime age, but even then some of my peers treat the topic of aging and impending birthdays with a sense of dread. For peoples who are older, the intensity of the feelings get stronger. Usually, those in their late 30s or 40s resign in jest.

Gerascophobia – this is the fear of growing old or of old age. There are several symptoms, such as the following:

  • Irrational fear of growing old
  • Feeling of panic, anxiety, terror or dread
  • Physical reactions, such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling
  • Extreme avoidance measures taken against aging

I distinctly remember discussing about birthdays with one of my friends many years ago, and this heartfelt comment from her grabbed my attention: “I don’t want to grow old”.

But why? Why do people fear growing old? Why do people feel so adverse toward the phenomenon of aging?

Mention the word ‘aging’, and the immediate emotional connotations that get wired up are fear, sadness, negativity, aversion, helplessness and resignation.

If you have a fear of growing old, this fear may stem from the following factors.

  1. Being undesirable. Most see fine lines and wrinkles, frown lines, laugh lines, sagging skin, etc with a sense of negativity. These are linked with ‘ugly’. This seems to apply to females more often than not, thanks to marketers. They spend billions in advertising every year to reinforce negativity in the notion looking old, so it leads to continual sales for their anti-aging products. The anti-aging consumer goods category continue to grow yearly. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty movement attempted to move away from that, but even then we are still bombarded by the whole industry which is still entrenched in a certain notion of beauty.
  2. Sickness, pain, suffering. With old age comes increased probability of sickness, decreased physical ability, medical conditions such as dementia (Alzheimer’s disease), heart disease, cancer, etc. These are seen to come hand in hand with pain and suffering.
  3. Being lesser than who they should be. All of us have goals and dreams. When you were younger, you would have consciously or unconsciously envisioned yourself being somewhere at a certain age. It may be to earn a lot of money, achieve a certain amount of success and have a family. Reaching a certain age reminds you of your visions, and simultaneously triggers the realization that they are not where they want to be. This realization can be quite painful for some.
  4. Fear of Loss. Growing older comes with loss – seeing people pass away, losing what they have now, losing their youth, losing their health (see reason # 2).
  5. Being Alone. People see old people as a burden and they try to avoid them. For example, my grandmother is in her 90s and she has over ten children. When it comes to taking care of her, all of them try to shift responsibility from one another, giving reasons like they are too busy. Old age tends to bring solitude.
  6. Death. Ultimately, what’s the end of our physical existence? Death. People fear death. Death means losing everything we have. Everything we have built. It also means the end of our existence.

All reasons take shape from certain beliefs, which will take several articles to address (something I will do in the future). For the purpose of this article, I’m going to address the specific fear of growing old.

If you ask me what I think about the fear of growing old, I see it as an irrational fear, as with other mental fears.

Let’s say you fear growing older. While you may dislike what old age brings to you, what exactly do you achieve by feeling worried about this?

Nothing! Except you are left feeling more negative, worrisome, and unsettled. You don’t lead a better life. And you certainly don’t grow younger by being afraid of growing old. Not only did you just tire yourself out with the fearful thought of growing older, you relive it for real when you do grow older.

This is the same no matter how long you harp on this fear. Whether you spend 1 minute entertaining the thought, or 1 hour, 1 day, 1 month, 1 year or 10 years, you are still going to grow older. Time will pass, the sun will continue to set and rise, Earth will rotate on its own axis, ocean tides will rise and fall dependent on the gravitational pull from the moon. Flowers will bloom and wilt. Life will still go on.

And you aren’t the only person in this world growing older. Everyone else is growing older too. Leaders like Barack Obama are growing older. Celebrities like Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are growing older. Your friends are growing older. People around you are growing older. I’m growing older too. Same for every physical being living on this planet.

No matter what you think, say or do, you are going to grow older. It’s going to happen, whether you like it or not.

So instead of sitting there, scaring and paralyzing yourself with your fear, you might as well embrace it. Embrace that growing older is part and parcel of life. Embrace that lines are going to form, that your physical body is going to deteriorate, that you will eventually die.

Rather than fight it, accept that it’s going to happen.

When you come to terms with this, your perspective shifts to a whole different level. Because now, instead of trapping yourself with unconstructive thoughts and fears, you concentrate on what’s really actionable. Instead of thinking what you could have done before, you think about what you can do now. Instead of investing time in things outside of your control, you focus on what you can influence instead. Instead of living in an illusion, you start living your life proper.

Some questions for you to think about:

What can you start doing today to maximize your experience of life?

What can you start doing today that will make you feel better about yourself?

What can you start doing today to increase your happiness and fulfillment of your life?

What can you start doing today to really be ‘living life to its fullest’?

What can you start doing which will make you look back and think ‘wow, I can’t think of a better way to live my life!’?

Here’s some quotes on growing old which I enjoy:

“If wrinkles must be written upon our brow, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should not grow old.” – James A. Garfield

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Mark Twain

“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.” – Michael Pritchard

Don’t wake up one day only to regret having missed out on so many things in life. Don’t miss out on all the marvelous things that are out there in your life now, because you are too busy fearing something which is going to happen anyway. Don’t fearing growing older now, only to look back later in life and regret not having lived life the way you wanted.

At the point of writing this, I’m 25 (Update: I’m now 31 as of 2015, and my views on aging are still the same as when I wrote this post 5 years ago) and I focus on living every moment to the best every day. Some may say that it’s because 25 is still a young age, and things will be different when I’m older. Not from where I see it though. Even when I’m 28, 30, 40, 55, 75, 100 (if I physically live that long), I will still be living life the way I’m living now – passionately, fiercely, vivaciously, spontaneously, free-spiritedly, crazily, joyously, compassionately, enthusiastically, courageously.

Age is but an indicator of the number of years you spent on Earth, via your current physical identity. While there may be social connotations that come with it, but beyond that it really doesn’t mean anything much. Don’t get too hung up on the number of candles that will be on your next birthday cake – focus yourself on current moment you are in now, take action on your goals and dreams and start creating the future of your undertaking. Then will you truly be living your life to the fullest.


Growing Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality

Getting old isn’t nearly as bad as people think it will be. Nor is it quite as good.

On aspects of everyday life ranging from mental acuity to physical dexterity to sexual activity to financial security, a new Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends survey on aging among a nationally representative sample of 2,969 adults finds a sizable gap between the expectations that young and middle-aged adults have about old age and the actual experiences reported by older Americans themselves.

These disparities come into sharpest focus when survey respondents are asked about a series of negative benchmarks often associated with aging, such as illness, memory loss, an inability to drive, an end to sexual activity, a struggle with loneliness and depression, and difficulty paying bills. In every instance, older adults report experiencing them at lower levels (often far lower) than younger adults report expecting to encounter them when they grow old. 1

At the same time, however, older adults report experiencing fewer of the benefits of aging that younger adults expect to enjoy when they grow old, such as spending more time with their family, traveling more for pleasure, having more time for hobbies, doing volunteer work or starting a second career.

These generation gaps in perception also extend to the most basic question of all about old age: When does it begin? Survey respondents ages 18 to 29 believe that the average person becomes old at age 60. Middle-aged respondents put the threshold closer to 70, and respondents ages 65 and above say that the average person does not become old until turning 74.

Other potential markers of old age–such as forgetfulness, retirement, becoming sexually inactive, experiencing bladder control problems, getting gray hair, having grandchildren–are the subjects of similar perceptual gaps. For example, nearly two-thirds of adults ages 18 to 29 believe that when someone “frequently forgets familiar names,” that person is old. Less than half of all adults ages 30 and older agree.

However, a handful of potential markers–failing health, an inability to live independently, an inability to drive, difficulty with stairs–engender agreement across all generations about the degree to which they serve as an indicator of old age.

Grow Older, Feel Younger

The survey findings would seem to confirm the old saw that you’re never too old to feel young. In fact, it shows that the older people get, the younger they feel–relatively speaking. Among 18 to 29 year-olds, about half say they feel their age, while about quarter say they feel older than their age and another quarter say they feel younger. By contrast, among adults 65 and older, fully 60% say they feel younger than their age, compared with 32% who say they feel exactly their age and just 3% who say they feel older than their age.

Moreover, the gap in years between actual age and “felt age” widens as people grow older. Nearly half of all survey respondents ages 50 and older say they feel at least 10 years younger than their chronological age. Among respondents ages 65 to 74, a third say they feel 10 to 19 years younger than their age, and one-in-six say they feel at least 20 years younger than their actual age.

In sync with this upbeat way of counting their felt age, older adults also have a count-my-blessings attitude when asked to look back over the full arc of their lives. Nearly half (45%) of adults ages 75 and older say their life has turned out better than they expected, while just 5% say it has turned out worse (the remainder say things have turned out the way they expected or have no opinion). All other age groups also tilt positive, but considerably less so, when asked to assess their lives so far against their own expectations.

The Downside of Getting Old

To be sure, there are burdens that come with old age. About one-in-four adults ages 65 and older report experiencing memory loss. About one-in-five say they have a serious illness, are not sexually active, or often feel sad or depressed. About one-in-six report they are lonely or have trouble paying bills. One-in-seven cannot drive. One-in-ten say they feel they aren’t needed or are a burden to others.

But when it comes to these and other potential problems related to old age, the share of younger and middle-aged adults who report expecting to encounter them is much higher than the share of older adults who report actually experiencing them.

Moreover, these problems are not equally shared by all groups of older adults. Those with low incomes are more likely than those with high incomes to face these challenges. The only exception to this pattern has to do with sexual inactivity the likelihood of older adults reporting a problem in this realm of life is not correlated with income.

Not surprisingly, troubles associated with aging accelerate as adults advance into their 80s and beyond. For example, about four-in-ten respondents (41%) ages 85 and older say they are experiencing some memory loss, compared with 27% of those ages 75-84 and 20% of those ages 65-74. Similarly, 30% of those ages 85 and older say they often feel sad or depressed, compared with less than 20% of those who are 65-84. And a quarter of adults ages 85 and older say they no longer drive, compared with 17% of those ages 75-84 and 10% of those who are 65-74.

But even in the face of these challenges, the vast majority of the “old old” in our survey appear to have made peace with their circumstances. Only a miniscule share of adults ages 85 and older𔂿%–say their lives have turned out worse than they expected. It no doubt helps that adults in their late 80s are as likely as those in their 60s and 70s to say that they are experiencing many of the good things associated with aging–be it time with family, less stress, more respect or more financial security.

The Upside of Getting Old

When asked about a wide range of potential benefits of old age, seven-in-ten respondents ages 65 and older say they are enjoying more time with their family. About two-thirds cite more time for hobbies, more financial security and not having to work. About six-in-ten say they get more respect and feel less stress than when they were younger. Just over half cite more time to travel and to do volunteer work. As the nearby chart illustrates, older adults may not be experiencing these “upsides” at quite the prevalence levels that most younger adults expect to enjoy them once they grow old, but their responses nonetheless indicate that the phrase “golden years” is something more than a syrupy greeting card sentiment.

Of all the good things about getting old, the best by far, according to older adults, is being able to spend more time with family members. In response to an open-ended question, 28% of those ages 65 and older say that what they value most about being older is the chance to spend more time with family, and an additional 25% say that above all, they value time with their grandchildren. A distant third on this list is having more financial security, which was cited by 14% of older adults as what they value most about getting older.

People Are Living Longer

These survey findings come at a time when older adults account for record shares of the populations of the United States and most developed countries. Some 39 million Americans, or 13% of the U.S. population, are 65 and older–up from 4% in 1900. The century-long expansion in the share of the world’s population that is 65 and older is the product of dramatic advances in medical science and public health as well as steep declines in fertility rates. In this country, the increase has leveled off since 1990, but it will start rising again when the first wave of the nation’s 76 million baby boomers turn 65 in 2011. By 2050, according to Pew Research projections, about one-in-five Americans will be over age 65, and about 5% will be ages 85 and older, up from 2% now. These ratios will put the U.S. at mid-century roughly where Japan, Italy and Germany–the three “oldest” large countries in the world–are today.

Contacting Older Adults

Any survey that focuses on older adults confronts one obvious methodological challenge: A small but not insignificant share of people 65 and older are either too ill or incapacitated to take part in a 20-minute telephone survey, or they live in an institutional setting such as a nursing home where they cannot be contacted. 2

We assume that the older adults we were unable to reach for these reasons have a lower quality of life, on average, than those we did reach. To mitigate this problem, the survey included interviews with more than 800 adults whose parents are ages 65 or older. We asked these adult children many of the same questions about their parents’ lives that we asked of older adults about their own lives. These “surrogate” respondents provide a window on the experiences of the full population of older adults, including those we could not reach directly. Not surprisingly, the portrait of old age they draw is somewhat more negative than the one painted by older adult respondents themselves. We present a summary of these second-hand observations at the end of Section I in the belief that the two perspectives complement one another and add texture to our report.

Perceptions about Aging

The Generation Gap, Circa 2009. In a 1969 Gallup Poll, 74% of respondents said there was a generation gap, with the phrase defined in the survey question as “a major difference in the point of view of younger people and older people today.” When the same question was asked a decade later, in 1979, by CBS and The New York Times, just 60% perceived a generation gap. But in perhaps the single most intriguing finding in this new Pew Research survey, the share that say there is a generation gap has spiked to 79%–despite the fact that there have been few overt generational conflicts in recent times of the sort that roiled the 1960s. It could be that the phrase now means something different, and less confrontational, than it did at the height of the counterculture’s defiant challenges to the establishment 40 years ago. Whatever the current understanding of the term “generation gap,” roughly equal shares of young, middle-aged and older respondents in the new survey agree that such a gap exists. The most common explanation offered by respondents of all ages has to do with differences in morality, values and work ethic. Relatively few cite differences in political outlook or in uses of technology.

When Does Old Age Begin? At 68. That’s the average of all answers from the 2,969 survey respondents. But as noted above, this average masks a wide, age-driven variance in responses. More than half of adults under 30 say the average person becomes old even before turning 60. Just 6% of adults who are 65 or older agree. Moreover, gender as well as age influences attitudes on this subject. Women, on average, say a person becomes old at age 70. Men, on average, put the number at 66. In addition, on all 10 of the non-chronological potential markers of old age tested in this survey, men are more inclined than women to say the marker is a proxy for old age.

Are You Old? Certainly not! Public opinion in the aggregate may decree that the average person becomes old at age 68, but you won’t get too far trying to convince people that age that the threshold applies to them. Among respondents ages 65-74, just 21% say they feel old. Even among those who are 75 and older, just 35% say they feel old.

What Age Would You Like to Live To? The average response from our survey respondents is 89. One-in-five would like to live into their 90s, and 8% say they’d like to surpass the century mark. The public’s verdict on the most desirable life span appears to have ratcheted down a bit in recent years. A 2002 AARP survey found that the average desired life span was 92.

Everyday Life

What Do Older People Do Every Day? Among all adults ages 65 and older, nine-in-ten talk with family or friends every day. About eight-in-ten read a book, newspaper or magazine, and the same share takes a prescription drug daily. Three-quarters watch more than a hour of television about the same share prays daily. Nearly two-thirds drive a car. Less than half spend time on a hobby. About four-in-ten take a nap about the same share goes shopping. Roughly one-in-four use the internet, get vigorous exercise or have trouble sleeping. Just 4% get into an argument with someone. As adults move deeper into their 70s and 80s, daily activity levels diminish on most fronts–especially when it comes to exercising and driving. On the other hand, daily prayer and daily medication both increase with age.

Are Older Adults Happy? They’re about as happy as everyone else. And perhaps more importantly, the same factors that predict happiness among younger adults–good health, good friends and financial security–by and large predict happiness among older adults. However, there are a few age-related differences in life’s happiness sweepstakes. Most notably, once all other key demographic variables are held constant, being married is a predictor of happiness among younger adults but not among older adults (perhaps because a significant share of the latter group is made up of widows or widowers, many of whom presumably have “banked” some of the key marriage-related correlates of happiness, such as financial security and a strong family life). Among all older adults, happiness varies very little by age, gender or race.

Retirement and Old Age. Retirement is a place without clear borders. Fully 83% of adults ages 65 and older describe themselves as retired, but the word means different things to different people. Just three-quarters of adults (76%) 65 and older fit the classic stereotype of the retiree who has completely left the working world behind.

An additional 8% say they are retired but are working part time, while 2% say they are retired but working full time and 3% say they are retired but looking for work. The remaining 11% of the 65-and-older population describe themselves as still in the labor force, though not all of them have jobs. Whatever the fuzziness around these definitions, one trend is crystal clear from government data 3 : After falling steadily for decades, the labor force participate rate of older adults began to trend back upward about 10 years ago. In the Pew Research survey, the average retiree is 75 years old and retired at age 62.

Living Arrangements. More than nine-in-ten respondents ages 65 and older live in thei
r own home or apartment, and the vast majority are either very satisfied (67%) or somewhat satisfied (21%) with their living arrangements. However, many living patterns change as adults advance into older age. For example, just 30% of adults ages 65-74 say they live alone, compared with 66% of adults ages 85 and above. Also, just 2% of adults ages 65-74 and 4% of adults ages 75-84 say they live in an assisted living facility, compared with 15% of those ages 85 and above.

Old-School Social Networking. The great majority of adults ages 65 and older (81%) say they have people around them, other than family, on whom they can rely on for social activities and companionship. About three-quarters say they have someone they can talk to when they have a personal problem six-in-ten say they have someone they can turn to for help with errands, appointments and other daily activities. On the flip side of the coin, three-in-ten older adults say they “often” help out other older adults who are in need of assistance, and an additional 35% say they sometimes do this. Most of these social connections remain intact as older adults continue to age, but among those 85 and above, the share that say they often or sometimes provide assistance to others drops to 44%.

The Twitter Revolution Hasn’t Landed Here. If there’s one realm of modern life where old and young behave very differently, it’s in the adoption of newfangled information technologies. Just four-in-ten adults ages 65-74 use the internet on a daily basis, and that share drops to just one-in-six among adults 75 and above. By contrast, three-quarters of adults ages 18-30 go online daily. The generation gap is even wider when it comes to cell phones and text messages. Among adults 65 and older, just 5% get most or all of their calls on a cell phone, and just 11% sometimes use their cell phone to send or receive a text message. For adults under age 30, the comparable figures are 72% and 87%, respectively.

Religion and Old Age. Religion is a far bigger part of the lives of older adults than younger adults. Two-thirds of adults ages 65 and older say religion is very important to them, compared with just over half of those ages 30 to 49 and just 44% of those ages 18 to 29. Moreover, among adults ages 65 and above, a third (34%) say religion has grown more important to them over the course of their lives, while just 4% say it has become less important and the majority (60%) say it has stayed the same. Among those who are over 65 and report having an illness or feeling sad, the share who say that religion has become more important to them rises to 43%.

Family Relationships

Staying in Touch with the Kids. Nearly nine-in-ten adults (87%) ages 65 and older have children. Of this group, just over half are in contact with a son or daughter every day, and an additional 40% are in contact with at least one child–either in person, by phone or by email–at least once a week. Mothers and daughters are in the most frequent contact fathers and daughters the least. Sons fall in the middle, and they keep in touch with older mothers and fathers at equal rates. Overall, three-quarters of adults who have a parent or parents ages 65 and older say they are very satisfied with their relationship with their parent(s), but that share falls to 62% if a parent needs help caring for his or her needs.

Was the Great Bard Mistaken? Shakespeare wrote that the last of the “seven ages of man” is a second childhood. Through the centuries, other poets and philosophers have observed that parents and children often reverse roles as parents grow older. Not so, says the Pew Research survey. Just 12% of parents ages 65 and older say they generally rely on their children more than their children rely on them. An additional 14% say their children rely more on them. The majority󈞦%–says neither relies on the other, and 13% say they rely on one another equally. Responses to this question from children of older parents are broadly similar.

Intergenerational Transfers within Families. Despite these reported patterns of non-reliance, older parents and their adult children do help each other out in a variety of ways. However, the perspectives on these transfers of money and time differ by generation. For example, about half (51%) of parents ages 65 and older say they have given their children money in the past year, while just 14% say their children have given them money. The intra-family accounting comes out quite differently from the perspective of adult children. Among survey respondents who have a parent or parents ages 65 or older, a quarter say they received money from a parent in the past year, while an almost equal share (21%) say they gave money to their parent(s). There are similar difference in perception, by generation, about who helps whom with errands and other daily activities. (To be clear, the survey did not interview specific pairs of parents and children rather, it contacted random samples who fell into these and other demographic categories.) Not surprisingly, as parents advance deeper into old age, both they and the adult children who have such parents report that the balance of assistance tilts more toward children helping parents.

Conversations about End-of-Life Matters. More than three-quarters of adults ages 65 and older say they’ve talked with their children about their wills nearly two-thirds say they’ve talked about what to do if they can no longer make their own medical decisions, and more than half say they’ve talked with their children about what to do if they can no longer live independently. Similar shares of adult children of older parents report having had these conversations. Parents and adult children agree that it is the parents who generally initiate these conversations, though 70% of older adults report that this is the case, compared with just 52% of children of older parents who say the same.

About the Survey

Results for this report are from a telephone survey conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,969 adults living in the continental United States. A combination of landline and cellular random digit dial (RDD) samples were used to cover all adults in the continental United States who have access to either a landline or cellular telephone. In addition, oversamples of adults 65 and older as well as blacks and Hispa
nics were obtained. The black and Hispanic oversamples were achieved by oversampling landline exchanges with more black and Hispanic residents as well as callbacks to blacks and Hispanics interviewed in previous surveys. A total of 2,417 interviews were completed with respondents contacted by landline telephone and 552 with those contacted on their cellular phone. The data are weighted to produce a final sample that is representative of the general population of adults in the continental United States. Survey interviews were conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates (PSRA).

  • Interviews were conducted Feb. 23-March 23, 2009.
  • There were 2,969 interviews, including 1,332 with respondents 65 or older. The older respondents included 799 whites, 293 blacks and 161 Hispanics.
  • Margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points for results based on the total sample and 3.7 percentage points for adults who are 65 and older at the 95% confidence level
  • For data reported by race or ethnicity, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the sample of older whites, plus or minus 7.4 percentage points for older blacks and plus or minus 10.3 percentage points for older Hispanics.
  • Note on terminology: Whites include only non-Hispanic whites. Blacks include only non-Hispanic blacks. Hispanics are of any race.

About the Focus Groups

With the assistance of PSRA, the Pew Research Center conducted four focus groups earlier this year in Baltimore, Md. Two groups were made up of adults ages 65 and older two others were made up of adults with parents ages 65 and older. Our purpose was to listen to ordinary Americans talk about the challenges and pleasures of growing old, and the stories we heard during those focus groups helped us shape our survey questionnaire. Focus group participants were told that they might be quoted in this report, but we promised not to quote them by name. The quotations interspersed throughout these pages are drawn from these focus group conversations.

About the Report

This report was edited and the overview written by Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center and director of its Social & Demographic Trends project. Sections I, II and III were written by Senior Researcher Kim Parker. Section IV was written by Research Associate Wendy Wang and Taylor. Section V was written by Senior Editor Richard Morin. The Demographics Section was written by Senior Writer D’Vera Cohn and the data was compiled by Wang. Led by Ms. Parker, the full Social & Demographic Trends staff wrote the survey questionnaire and conducted the analysis of its findings. The regression analysis we used to examine the predictors of happiness among older and younger adults was done by a consultant, Cary L. Funk, associate professor in the Wilder School of Government at Virginia Commonwealth University. The report was copy-edited by Marcia Kramer of Kramer Editing Services. It was number checked by Pew Research Center staff members Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, Daniel Dockterman and Cristina Mercado. We wish to thank other PRC colleagues who offered research and editorial guidance, including Andrew Kohut, Scott Keeter, Gretchen Livingston, Jeffrey Passel, Rakesh Kochhar and Richard Fry.


Method

Participants

The initial sample consisted of 184 English-speaking participants recruited by a survey research firm located in the San Francisco Bay area in 1993 and 1995. Because the methods were relatively demanding and we were interested in normal aging, we instructed the firm to restrict recruitment to participants who reported that their health was 𠇊s good or better than most people their age.” The sample was restricted to two ethnic groups in order to allow for statistically meaningful analyses of two subsamples: 31% of the participants were African American and the remaining 69% were European American. Fifty-four percent of participants were women and 46% were men 41% of participants were blue-collar workers and 59% were white-collar workers. 1 Education ranged from 5 to 22 years (M = 15.0, SD = 2.7). Participants ranged in age from 18 to 94 years (M = 55, SD = 20.4). Importantly, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status were stratified across age.

Following an initial wave of data collection (1993�), two subsequent waves of data were collected at 5-year intervals (Wave 2, 1998� Wave 3, 2004�) in a burst design. At each wave, additional participants were recruited to replace those lost to attrition as well as a new group of young people to replace those who aged out of the youngest group. 2 A total of 191 participants completed Wave 2 and 178 participants completed Wave 3. The sociodemographic composition of the samples did not differ across waves (see Table 1 for details).

Table 1

Demographic Characteristics of the Sample

Characteristic StatisticSample description
Wave 1 (n = 184)Wave 2 (n = 191)Wave 3 (n = 178)
Mean age (SD)54.83 (20.57)55.62 (22.05)57.33 (21.34)
Age range18.0�.018.0�.018.0�.0
Mean years of education (SD)14.77 (2.85)15.17 (2.62)15.47 (2.43)
Sex54% women53% women53% women
46% men47% men47% men
Ethnicity31% African American31% African American29% African American
69% European American69% European American71% European American
Socioeconomic status41% blue-collar37% blue-collar39% blue-collar
59% white-collar63% white-collar61% white-collar
Mean number of children (SD)1.60 (1.61)1.54 (1.48)1.56 (1.34)

In order to address selective attrition, we compared participants who were retained from one wave to the next with those who did not continue participating. As is typical in longitudinal studies, retained participants were more likely to be European American, χ 2 (1, 218) = 4.21, p <.05, and to have more years of education, M = 15.31 vs. 14.52, t(375) = 2.80, p <.01. We performed the same analyses excluding those participants who had died between waves and these differences remained significant. Otherwise, there were no differences by age, gender, socioeconomic status, or health (all ps > .20) in the composition of the samples across waves.

Since the commencement of the first wave of data collection, information about mortality has been obtained from the Social Security Death Index database at regular intervals, and death certificates with information on date and cause of death have been obtained from the Office of Vital Statistics. In the fall of 2009, roughly 15 years after study initiation, 61 participants originally recruited in Wave 1 had died (all from natural causes) and 123 participants were still alive.

Procedure

Following screening by the survey research firm, participants were scheduled at their convenience for an initial interview at Stanford University or at the offices of the San Francisco-based survey research firm that did the initial recruiting (Wave 1). At Waves 2 and 3, participants who were unable to come to Stanford due to poor health or lack of transportation were interviewed in their homes or in a private meeting room at the San Francisco Public Library. Participants were informed that the purpose of the study was to examine feelings in everyday life. After obtaining informed consent and background information, such as education level, the participants completed questionnaires that assessed physical health, personality, happiness, and cognitive ability.

At that point, participants were provided with detailed instructions about the experimental procedures. Then they were given an electronic pager, were familiarized with the operations of the pager (e.g., how to set it for vibration or sound, how to indicate that they had received the page by pushing a button, etc.), and were instructed to complete the emotion response sheets each time they were paged. During the ensuing week, participants were paged five times each day. Paging times were determined by random selections from all possible 10-min intervals between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. The only constraint on sampling times was that participants were not sampled more than once within a single 20-min period. At the end of each day, participants returned the five completed response sheets by mail in pre-addressed stamped envelopes, allowing us to monitor responses during the data collection period and assure adherence to the experimental protocol. Participants were encouraged to telephone the laboratory if procedural questions or problems arose, and periodic calls were made to participants as well to ensure that they were not having any difficulty with the procedure. After participants completed the week-long experience-sampling data collection, they returned to the laboratory for a follow-up interview, at which time they were debriefed and paid for their participation.

Materials

Emotion sampling

Participants rated the degree to which they were feeling each of 19 emotions using a 7-point scale that ranged from 1 (not at all) to 7 (extremely). The list of emotions included 8 positive (happiness, joy, contentment, excitement, pride, accomplishment, interest, and amusement) and 11 negative emotions (anger, sadness, fear, disgust, guilt, embarrassment, shame, anxiety, irritation, frustration, and boredom). Thirty-five daily samplers (5 per day, 7 days) were bound into an 8.5 in. by 5.5 in. pad to allow for easy transport during the week of paging.

Cornell Medical Index (CMI)

The CMI (Brodman, Erdmann, & Wolff, 1956) is a 195-item index of physical and mental health problems that allows for the computation of a general health index, as well as subscales that represent particular subsystems (e.g., vision, allergies, cardiovascular, neurological, etc.). Participants answer 195 questions about family history and symptoms they have experienced. We computed one index representing the total number of symptoms of physical illness (e.g., 𠇊re you troubled by constant coughing?).

Verbal fluency

Participants are asked to name as many different types of animals as possible within 90 seconds. This test shows a strong association with general intellectual ability and has been extensively used with older adults (Lindenberger, Mayr, & Kliegl, 1993).

Happiness

Participants indicated their current level of happiness by completing the 4-item Subjective Happiness Scale (Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999). Participants indicate on a 7-point Likert-scale how generally happy they are (1 = not a very happy person, 7 = a very happy person) and how happy they are relative to their peers (1 = less happy, 7 = more happy). Two additional items require participants to indicate the extent to which a description of a “very happy” and a “very unhappy” person, respectively, characterizes them (1 = not at all, 7 = a great deal). The fourth item is reversed scored and higher scores for the overall scale indicate greater subjective happiness.

Personality

At Wave 1, personality was assessed using a list of 54 adjectives representing the Big Five factors of personality presented in the form of self-descriptive sentences (John & Srivastava, 1999). At Waves 2 and 3, these personality dimensions were assessed using the 60-item NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI Costa & McCrae, 1992). We computed scores for each of the Big Five factors: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. Personality scores for the three waves were Z-standardized and aggregated across waves, yielding five time-invariant personality scores for each person that were used as covariates in growth curve analyses.


Study suggests people with neurotic personality traits do not enjoy growing older as much as peers, may need extra help

While most adult Americans report feeling more cheerful, content and other positive emotions as they reach their middle and later years, a subset who have more neurotic personality traits do not share in that trend toward greater satisfaction with age, according to a recent analysis by psychology researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Purdue University.

Led by Rebecca Ready, UMass Amherst assistant professor of psychology, and her graduate student Anna Akerstedt, with Daniel Mroczek at Purdue, the analysis suggests that neuroticism may be a liability for older adults not only because they are less content but because their "negative affect" is associated with poorer mental health.

The researchers suggest that psychological theories about emotional change over time and clinical practice could do more to help enrich adults’ lives by taking into account individual personality differences such as neuroticism. Results appear in the current issue of the journal Aging and Mental Health.

Ready and colleagues analyzed data collected at two points about 10 years apart from 1,503 men and women who participated in the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS I and II) studies. "People who score high on a neuroticism scale had less mental well-being over time and this pattern was stronger for older and midlife adults than for younger persons. We feel further study may yield a better understanding of how to intervene in this process. This might provide tools to guard against late-life depressive symptoms," Ready says.

Psychology views neuroticism as a fairly stable personality trait that occurs on a continuum. People who score higher describe themselves more often as nervous, sad, upset and feeling hopeless or worthless. By contrast, people who score low in neuroticism report less often feeling tense, sad or worried. They don’t say they are happier, but they do say they feel calm, satisfied and not stressed.

Ready and her colleagues point out that despite the wealth of data available on neuroticism, emotion and aging, little is known about how these variables interact over time, as people grow older. They set out to address this gap in understanding and to explore whether an individual’s neuroticism score at baseline predicted emotional complexity and emotional well-being 10 years later.

Participants were selected from among 2,257 people 25 to 74 years old who took part in the MIDUS I study in 1995-1996 as well as the follow-up study in 2004-2006. Respondents completed two mail-in questionnaires and a 30-minute phone interview at each time point. Those with missing data or who didn’t answer the questions needed for this analysis were excluded, leaving 1,503 in the final sample. They were 90 percent white, 55 percent female and most, 68.7 percent, were married at baseline.

The researchers assessed the trait of neuroticism with a four-item scale at MIDUS I and II. It asked how often subjects felt moody, worried or nervous, for example. Ten years later, different items were used to code individuals as having positive or negative emotions by asking how often they felt sad, restless/fidgety, hopeless, everything was an effort, worthless, afraid, jittery, irritable, ashamed and upset as well as attentive, proud and active.

Overall, using moderated multiple regressions, Ready and colleagues found that neuroticism was significantly and negatively associated with emotional well-being while age was significantly and positively associated with emotional well-being. The interaction between age and neuroticism in predicting emotional well-being was significant.

A major finding was that "neuroticism is more strongly linked to emotion outcomes for older than younger persons," they add. On average, neuroticism tends to decrease during adult development, but not at the same rate for everyone, Ready points out. "Such decreases may result in better, broader and richer emotional experiences in later life. This hypothesis is supported by results of the current study."

Older and midlife adults who are as high on the neuroticism scale as younger people might be helped by early interventions to improve emotional well-being, Ready adds. "We did not assess risk for future depressive disorders but it is reasonable to speculate that older and midlife adults high in neuroticism are at greater risk for depressive symptoms in the future than are persons lower in neuroticism. They may also experience less well-being and may have less tolerance for complex emotions."

The authors say more research is needed to explore how and why some older adults do not conform to normative developmental trajectories to provide a fuller understanding of emotional development and how to help people achieve optimal outcomes as they mature.


It's Common For Friendships To Change Over The Years

According to the study's findings, the average 25-year-old woman contacts about 17.5 people per month, while a man contacts 19 people, and this decline continues up until retirement. "People become more focused on certain relationships and maintain those relationships," said Kunal Bhattacharya, a postdoctoral researcher at Aalto University who co-authored the study. "You have new family contacts developing, but your casual circle shrinks."

Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford who co-authored the paper, also weighed in on this theory. "Women have this idea of a best friend, who is similar to a romantic partner . and women work hard at these relationships," he said. "Particularly with friendships, if you don't invest in them or see those friends, they will decay and quite rapidly drop." All that said, here are seven reasons that the older you get, the fewer friends you have, according to experts.


1. Be Thankful You Woke up This Morning

Not to start on a morbid note, but you woke up this morning. Some people didn&rsquot. Don&rsquot think of it is as a depressing morality tale, just use it to remember that you&rsquove won the greatest gift life has to offer &ndash you&rsquore alive.

It&rsquos so easy to dwell on the negative aspects of our lives, but we always seem to miss the most obvious positive thing we have &ndash life itself. Take a deep breath, look outside your window, and marvel at the world around you.


Why Do Some of Us Worry More Than Others?

Worrying is something everyone does, but it is such a constant part of life for some that it has a significant impact on everything they do. Answering the question of why some people worry more than others is a career goal for many with a master&rsquos degree in psychology. Let&rsquos take a closer look at some explanations for why some of us worry more than others.

Default Mode Network

Some researchers and mental health practitioners attribute this heightened worry to the default mode network, a region of the brain that is activated when we are not concentrating on anything in particular. According to some experts, if the thoughts triggered by our default mode network are negative or fear-based, then pessimistic emotions tend to be felt when we don&rsquot have anything to focus on. Alternatively, when we are focused, the default mode network is effectively turned off and the negative thoughts are suppressed. Some people, however, may have an overactive default mode network, which leads their mind to constantly replay negative events or stimulate self-doubt. 1

Perception

Some experts contend that thinking that we worry more than the next person is based on a misguided perception. We may actually be worrying as much as everyone else, but it seems like they worry less because they don&rsquot talk to us about what worries them. While we are very aware of our own worries, we have a less accurate understanding of the extent to which other people worry because it&rsquos simply not discussed. 2 Outside of discussing our anxieties with a mental health practitioner, talking about our fears and doubts in public goes against societal norms.

Emotional Sensitivity

There are some psychology experts who believe some people worry more than others because they are more emotionally sensitive. According to the research, the more emotionally sensitive people are, the more they will find bad situations devastating. People&rsquos brain chemistry can actually change after they go through a traumatic experience, which leaves them wired to avoid the situation at all costs and can lead to more worrying and anxiety. 3

Stress

Other research indicates that increased worrying can be brought on by prolonged general stress, not just something traumatic. When we encounter a challenge, we release cortisol, which provides a boost of energy and focus. But some scientists argue that problems arise when we have excess cortisol in our body for an extended period of time. This can lead to a poorly regulated stress response that can cause strong and extended periods of worrying. 4 Stress experienced over time can lead to more worrying and anxiousness because our stress response is becoming less effective.

Something We Are Born With

Some psychologists believe that there are those of us who are born predisposed to worry more than others. They cite longitudinal studies that track children from birth through adolescence and adulthood to see how worried and anxious they feel over time. Several studies seem to indicate that babies who have strong reactions to novel situations tend to grow up to be more anxious. These high-reactive babies also have a hyperactive amygdala as they grow older and greater increases in heart rate and pupil dilation in response to stress, compared to others. 5 Although the research subjects all had different upbringings and different challenges in life, the data shows that those who were highly reactive as babies had a higher likelihood to worry more as adults than those babies who were less reactive.

As we have seen, there is no clear answer as to why some people worry more than others. It is a question psychologists and mental health practitioners continue to research. And it&rsquos just one of many questions you can address with a master&rsquos in psychology from an accredited online institution. With a master&rsquos degree in psychology, you can to apply your knowledge and research to real-world situations, or you can further your studies and pursue a PhD in Psychology. Regardless of which of these paths you choose, you can help answer questions about the human mind and behavior that can have a positive impact on the lives of many.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Psychology degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


The aging paradox: The older we get, the happier we are

Believe it or not, there are upsides to getting older.

Yes, your physical health is likely to decline as you age. And unfortunately, your cognitive abilities like learning new skills and remembering things is likely to suffer too.

But despite such downsides, research suggests that your overall mental health, including your mood, your sense of well-being and your ability to handle stress, just keeps improving right up until the very end of life.

Consider it something to look forward to.

In a recent survey of more than 1,500 San Diego residents aged 21 to 99, researchers report that people in their 20s were the most stressed out and depressed, while those in their 90s were the most content.

There were no dips in well-being in midlife, and no tapering off of well-being at the end of life.

Instead scientists found a clear, linear relationship between age and mental health: The older people were, the happier they felt.

“The consistency was really striking,” said Dilip Jeste, director of the UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging and senior author of the study. “People who were in older life were happier, more satisfied, less depressed, had less anxiety and less perceived stress than younger respondents.”

The results were published Wednesday in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Experts on the psychology of aging say the new findings add to a growing body of research that suggests there are emotional benefits to getting older.

“In the literature it’s called the paradox of aging,” said Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, who was not involved in the work. “How can it be that given the many well-documented losses that occur with age, we also see this improvement in emotional well-being?”

As it happens, Carstensen does not think this is a paradox at all.

In her own work, she has found evidence that people’s goals and reasoning change as they come to appreciate their mortality and recognize that their time on Earth is finite.

“When people face endings they tend to shift from goals about exploration and expanding horizons to ones about savoring relationships and focusing on meaningful activities,” she said. “When you focus on emotionally meaningful goals, life gets better, you feel better, and the negative emotions become less frequent and more fleeting when they occur.”

The authors of the new work also suggest that improved mental health in old age could be due to the wisdom people acquire as they grow older.

Jeste defines wisdom as a mutli-component personality trait that includes empathy, compassion, self-knowledge, openness to new ideas, decisiveness, emotional regulation and doing things for others rather than for yourself.

“As we get older, we make better social decisions because we are more experienced, and that’s where wisdom comes into play,” he said.

Another possible explanation for the emotional benefits of aging could stem from the physiology of the brain, the authors said.

Brain-imaging studies show that older people are less responsive to stressful images than younger people.

When scientists showed older and younger adults pictures of a smiling baby — an image designed to make everyone happy — both groups exhibited increased activation in the part of the brain associated with emotion. However, while a disturbing image of a car accident evoked a lot of activity in the emotional region of the brain of young people, older people had a much more subdued response.

Arthur Stone, a psychologist and head of the USC Dornsife Center for Self-Report Science who was not involved in the study, said that while the various explanations for the aging paradox are intriguing, there is still still no definitive finding that can explain the phenomenon.

“There’s lots of speculation about why older people are happier and having better moods even when their cognitive and physical health is in decline, but we still don’t have anything that fully explains what is going on,” he said. “It’s a big puzzle, and an important puzzle.”

Another important finding of the study is that despite our culture’s obsession with youth, it turns out that the 20s and 30s are generally a very stressful time for many young adults who are plagued by anxiety and depression.

“This ‘fountain of youth’ is associated with a far worse level of psychological well-being than during any other period of adulthood,” the authors said.

They noted that there are many pressures unique to this life phase including establishing a career, finding a life partner and navigating financial issues.

“It could be that age is associated with a reduction in risk factors for mental health,” said Darrell Worthy, a professor of cognitive psychology at Texas A&M University, who was not involved in the work. “Older adults may not have to deal with these stressors as much.”

The authors noted that the study does have some limitations.

Participants were contacted via landline, meaning the experiences of people who have only cellphones were not included in the results.

In addition, people were excluded from taking part in the survey if they had dementia, lived in a nursing home or had a terminal illness. That means the elderly participants were, on the whole, fairly healthy, which might influence their sense of well-being.

Finally, everyone involved in the survey lived in sunny San Diego. It is possible that aging in Michigan could be very different than aging in Southern California.

Still, Carstensen said the study had major implications, especially considering that within just a few years, more people on the planet will be over 60 than under 15.

“Policy leaders are saying, ‘How are we going to cope with all these old people?’ ” she said. “But a population who are in good mental health, emotionally stable, more grateful, and more likely to forgive are a pretty great resource for a society with so much strife and war.”

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