Date of Award

Spring 2021

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Economics, PhD

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Jeane Nakamura

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Kendal Cotton-Bronk

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Saida Hesmati

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Mary Lee Hummert

Abstract

Our thoughts and beliefs about our own aging, known as self-perceptions of aging, are found to greatly impact our health and well-being across the lifespan (Wurm et al., 2015). A large body of research suggests that positive and negative views on aging are associated with long-term health benefits and detriments, respectively. According to stereotype embodiment theory, stereotypes are incrementally internalized across the lifespan, forming our aging stereotypes, which then become self-stereotypes once we identify as older adults, eventually shaping our self-perceptions of aging (Levy, 2003b, 2009). Based on the postulates of this theory, it is unclear how individuals develop positive self-perceptions of aging when negative aging stereotypes are more prevalent than positive stereotypes in most societies. Two studies were conducted to understand how the internalization of negative aging stereotypes can potentially be reduced and identify factors associated with longitudinal changes in positive and negative self-perceptions of aging. Using cross-sectional data from 612 U.S. citizens over the age of 60, Study 1 found that having a weak identification with the older adult social category or having positive affect towards the older adult social category was related to a weaker relationship between the negative aging stereotypes and the negative self-stereotypes endorsed by individuals. In addition, having more positive aging experiences was related to a weaker relationship between the two types of stereotypes. Thus, it appears that our identity and lived experiences may attenuate the degree to which negative stereotypes are internalized. Utilizing parallel process growth curve models on four waves of data from the German Aging Study, Study 2 analyzed the average growth trajectories of positive and negative self-perceptions of aging and the factors associated with the growth trajectories. Differences in the development of self-perceptions of aging between middle- (40-59 years old), third- (60-74 years old), and fourth-aged adults (75 years old and higher) were also explored. Study 2 found that, on average, positive self-perceptions of aging declined linearly, while negative self-perceptions of aging increased linearly across measurement occasions. However, the opposite pattern was found for middle-aged adults. Furthermore, the intercept and slope of positive self-perceptions of aging were inversely related to the intercept and slope of negative self-perceptions of aging. Additionally, the intercept and slope within both perceptions of aging were inversely correlated, meaning that higher baseline positive self-perceptions of aging were related to steeper decreases in these self-perceptions across time, and higher baseline negative self-perceptions of aging were related to shallower increases in these views on aging across measurement occasions. Beyond replicating certain findings from past studies, Study 2 uniquely identified satisfaction with life, older age identification, and perceived age discrimination as factors associated with the development of self-perceptions of aging. Moreover, when comparing results from parallel process growth curve models specific to each phase of adulthood, it was found that the factors most strongly associated with the development of self-perceptions of aging differed between the three age groups. Such differences suggest that future interventions aimed at enhancing self-perceptions of aging may be maximized if tailored to the participants' ages. However, with life satisfaction and depressive symptoms related to better and worse self-perceptions of aging for each age group, respectively, public policies designed to support mental health may be best for enhancing self-perceptions of aging at the population-level. The findings from this dissertation further our empirical understanding of how self-perceptions of aging are internalized and develop across time. While stereotype embodiment theory has postulated that the harmfulness of negative aging stereotypes is more salient when one identifies as an older adult, Study 2 was the first to provide longitudinal evidence for the damaging association between older adult identification and self-perceptions of aging. However, results from Study 1 suggest the nuances of social identity must be taken into account as holding positive in-group affect may reduce the harm associated with identifying as an older adult. Additionally, whereas past research has found positive and negative self-perceptions of aging to be independent constructs, the use of parallel process growth curve models in Study 2 revealed that the development of the two are related. Lastly, Study 2 was the first to the author's knowledge to identify middle age as a period of life associated with the development of more positive and less negative self-perceptions of aging. Findings from the two studies provide evidence for how positive self-perceptions of aging can develop in light of ageism's pervasiveness and begin to suggest avenues for the creation of interventions to bolster self-perceptions of aging.

DOI

10.5642/cguetd/200

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