Previous research on aging has shown that positive attitudes toward aging can have multiple benefits for health and well-being, but it has not been clear whether these benefits extend to older adults in precarious economic situations. Having a low income and little security for retirement has been associated with poorer health outcomes as individuals age. A recent study looked more closely at individuals in precarious economic circumstances to see whether positive attitudes toward aging were associated with better health and well-being outcomes in this population, potentially acting as a buffer against disadvantaging economic factors. Can associating more gains than losses with aging, setting goals in old age, and viewing the future through a positive lens make a difference for this population?
In a comparison of precarious and financially secure groups, researchers found the former were also disadvantaged on a number of variables. The largest difference was regarding measures of well-being. Physical health differences were also seen, but the magnitude of this was more intermediate. Differences between the groups were also seen in social network size, positive views on aging, and physical activity.
When positive views on aging were factored in, such views were the strongest predictors of positive outcomes for both groups. However, the association between positive views on aging and well-being was stronger for the precarious group. Looking within just the precarious individuals, comparing those with positive and negative views of aging revealed that positive views were associated with more positive scores on well-being, social network size, physical health, and physical activity.
This quantitative analysis was followed by interviews that aimed to identify why positive views of aging had this observed effect. These revealed that for both groups, two key factors were engaging in healthy behaviors and having a “do it yourself attitude.” For the precarious population, two additional important factors were flexibility and social networks. For secure but not precarious individuals, the importance of planning was also emphasized.
This study shows that positive views on aging can have a beneficial impact regardless of economic circumstances, as well as suggests that facilitating flexibility and social engagement may be of particular importance for the most economically vulnerable.