Old-Age Trajectories of Life Satisfaction. Are Singlehood and Childlessness Greater Disadvantage at More Advanced Old Age?

Malgorzata Mikucka , Mannheim University

This paper analysed life satisfaction among elderly people in various family situations and tested whether the (possible) disadvantage related to being single or childless increased or reduced as people moved towards a more advanced old age. The theoretical mechanism of cumulative (dis)advantage predicts that the differences become greater at more advanced old age; the age-as-leveler mechanism predicts that differences reduce with progressing old age. The analysis used Swiss Household Panel data for respondents aged 60-74 and 75-89. The results showed that married people were more satisfied with their lives than the single; however, childless people did not differ in life satisfaction from parents. The only exception were men during transition to widowhood, who were disproportionally negatively affected by the transition if they were childless. The intra-individual shifts of life satisfaction did not provide a clear support to neither cumulative (dis)advantage nor the age-as-leveler model. Additionally, the paper explored the role of support availability for differences and dynamics of life satisfaction. Although availability of social support predicted life satisfaction and its changes, the differences in support availability did not explain the life satisfaction gap among people in various family situations. These results suggest that life satisfaction changes during old age are shaped by a complex set of mechanisms, as some disadvantaged groups improve their situation, whereas other disadvantaged groups experience a further decline. The results also point to the never married parents as a group for whom old age is especially challenging, and whose subjective well-being is particularly at risk.

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 Presented in Session 56. Kin Availability at Older Ages and Its Consequences on Health