Feeling your age in different societies

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Elderly woman
Elderly woman by Adam Jones }

People over 70 identifying as ‘old’ feel worse about health where they perceive they have lower social status.

New research from psychologists at the University, titled ‘Being old and ill’ across different countries: social status, age identification and older people’s subjective health, (published in the journal Psychology and Health) used data from the European Social Survey. Respondents, who were all aged 70 and over, were asked to self-rate their health.

The researchers found that those living in societies where older people have lower status were more likely to have a negative subjective view of their health if they identified themselves as ‘old’. However, identifying as an older person was not associated with subjective health in societies where older people have higher status.

The results highlighted that in countries where old age is perceived as signifying low status, identifying strongly with old age is related to worse subjective health.

The study could have major implications for policy-makers across Europe, where the elevation of the perceived social status of older people would be likely to reduce negative connotations associated with old age, ensuring that identifying as ‘old’ would not impact negatively on how healthy people felt.

The research was carried out by Dr Hannah Swift, Christopher Bratt and Professor Dominic Abrams of Kent’s Centre for the Study of Group Processes in the School of Psychology, and Sibila Marques, Christin-Melanie Vauclair and Maria Luisa Lima of the Centre for Psychological Research and Social Intervention at Lisbon University Institute. All authors are members of Eurage, the European research group on attitudes to age.

For more information please contact Dr Hannah Swift.