Life satisfaction in old age: linking social psychology and history.
A life course perspective on aging assumes that adaptation is governed by factors beyond the immediate situation. Using longitudinal data on 79 women from the 1900 generation of the Berkeley Guidance Study, we examined how social and psychological factors interact over time in the course of successful aging, as expressed by life satisfaction. The consequences of adaptive resources in early adulthood vary in relation to social class. Intellectual skills in 1930 indirectly predict life satisfaction in old age for women from the working class, whereas emotional health is more influential in the life satisfaction of women with higher class origins. Social activity in old age makes a difference only in the lives of women from the working class. Finally, adaptation to old age is related to women's experiences with past stressful events. Middle-class women in 1930 showed gains attributable to Depression hardship (1930s), whereas the life satisfaction of women from the working class was diminished by such hardships. Several mechanisms are discussed that may link widely separated problem situations and life events across the life course. The analysis provides empirical support for the proposition that the influence of social change on life trajectories is contingent on what individuals bring to change situations.
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