Journal of Gerontological Nursing

Which Older Americans Enjoy Life, Which Don't and Why?

Abstract

A comprehensive study of America's senior citizens found three categories of general well-being defined primarily in terms of health, economic security and marital companionship: "casualties," "survivors," and "enjoyers." The study, Aging in America: Tr iah and Triumphs, was based on a representative national sampling of noninstitutionalized Americans 60 years of age and older. It was sponsored by Americana Healthcare Corporation (a division of Cenco, Inc.), and conducted by Research & Forecasts, Inc., New York City.

The study found that one out of every five noninstitutionalized senior citizens is a "casualty" of the complexities of daily living and the particular difficulties that accompany aging. More than half are "survivors," and nearly three out of 10 are "enjoyers" of their old age.

Older women, the study revealed, are doing far less well than the men. Although they outnumber men in their age group nearly three to two, they make up three out of four of the ' 'casual ties, " 6 1 % of the "survivors," and only 46% of the "enjoyers." Women are more likely to be widowed and generally report lower financial assets and much lower income than men in their age group; both these factors work severely against feelings of wellbeing.

The "casualties" of aging, 20% of all older Americans, are those hit hardest by the difficulties of old age. They are undergoing the aging process without any of the positive supports required for high morale. Based on reported behavior and attitudes, "casualties," said the study:

* Suffer from fair-to-poor health

* Are afflicted by high economic stress - 69% have household incomes of less than 58,000, and 75% have assets of less than $26,000

* Lack a marital companion of equal physical capability

* Predominantly are women (74% of the casualties are women, compared with 58% of the total population of senior citizens)

* Have less than a high school education (70%).

"Survivors," 53% of senior Americans, are managing to cope more or less successfully, with the problems of old age. Based on reported behavior and attitudes, these "survivors:"

* Cannot rely on good health -many indeed report good-toexcellent health, but many do not

* Cannot rely on a high degree of economic security - their incomes tend to be lower than those of the "enjoyers;" 50% have household incomes of less than $8,000 per year; they also tend to have a lower net worth than the "enjoyers;" 60% have assets of less than $26,000

* Cannot rely on sharing companionship with a spouse of equal physical capability

* Tend to be either male or female

* Have less than a high school education (61%).

The "enjoyers" of their senior years, 27% of older Americans, are managing their lives relatively successfully. They are living the promise of "golden years" traditionally held out to older people. Based on reported behavior and attitudes, these "enjoyers," said the study:

* Tend to report good- to-excellent health

* Tend to experience comparatively low levels of economic stress; their assets are comparatively high (upwards from $26,000) and their household incomes exceed $8,000

* Have a spouse of equal physical capability

* Mostly are male (54% of the enjoyers are male, compared with 42% in the total population over 65)

* Tend to be relatively better educated.

While perceived health, financial security and marital companionship are key factors in separating "enjoyers" from "survivors" and "casualties," age itself is not a determining element in a person's ability to cope with old age, the study found. Those overcoming the difficulties of life are found in all age groups - from the early 60s to the very…

A comprehensive study of America's senior citizens found three categories of general well-being defined primarily in terms of health, economic security and marital companionship: "casualties," "survivors," and "enjoyers." The study, Aging in America: Tr iah and Triumphs, was based on a representative national sampling of noninstitutionalized Americans 60 years of age and older. It was sponsored by Americana Healthcare Corporation (a division of Cenco, Inc.), and conducted by Research & Forecasts, Inc., New York City.

The study found that one out of every five noninstitutionalized senior citizens is a "casualty" of the complexities of daily living and the particular difficulties that accompany aging. More than half are "survivors," and nearly three out of 10 are "enjoyers" of their old age.

Older women, the study revealed, are doing far less well than the men. Although they outnumber men in their age group nearly three to two, they make up three out of four of the ' 'casual ties, " 6 1 % of the "survivors," and only 46% of the "enjoyers." Women are more likely to be widowed and generally report lower financial assets and much lower income than men in their age group; both these factors work severely against feelings of wellbeing.

The "casualties" of aging, 20% of all older Americans, are those hit hardest by the difficulties of old age. They are undergoing the aging process without any of the positive supports required for high morale. Based on reported behavior and attitudes, "casualties," said the study:

* Suffer from fair-to-poor health

* Are afflicted by high economic stress - 69% have household incomes of less than 58,000, and 75% have assets of less than $26,000

* Lack a marital companion of equal physical capability

* Predominantly are women (74% of the casualties are women, compared with 58% of the total population of senior citizens)

* Have less than a high school education (70%).

"Survivors," 53% of senior Americans, are managing to cope more or less successfully, with the problems of old age. Based on reported behavior and attitudes, these "survivors:"

* Cannot rely on good health -many indeed report good-toexcellent health, but many do not

* Cannot rely on a high degree of economic security - their incomes tend to be lower than those of the "enjoyers;" 50% have household incomes of less than $8,000 per year; they also tend to have a lower net worth than the "enjoyers;" 60% have assets of less than $26,000

* Cannot rely on sharing companionship with a spouse of equal physical capability

* Tend to be either male or female

* Have less than a high school education (61%).

The "enjoyers" of their senior years, 27% of older Americans, are managing their lives relatively successfully. They are living the promise of "golden years" traditionally held out to older people. Based on reported behavior and attitudes, these "enjoyers," said the study:

* Tend to report good- to-excellent health

* Tend to experience comparatively low levels of economic stress; their assets are comparatively high (upwards from $26,000) and their household incomes exceed $8,000

* Have a spouse of equal physical capability

* Mostly are male (54% of the enjoyers are male, compared with 42% in the total population over 65)

* Tend to be relatively better educated.

While perceived health, financial security and marital companionship are key factors in separating "enjoyers" from "survivors" and "casualties," age itself is not a determining element in a person's ability to cope with old age, the study found. Those overcoming the difficulties of life are found in all age groups - from the early 60s to the very old.

The study was based on interviews with 514 noninstitutionalized persons 60 years old or more, culled from 5,737 phone calls made on a rigidly qualified random digit telephone sampling throughout the U.S.A.

The sample did not include the 4.5% of older poeple (approximately one million people) who live in long-term care facilities, nor could it reach the comparatively small percentage of older Americans who do not have ready access to telephones. However, the sample size, the geographic breakdown of respondents, and the weighting of figures based on well-established standards to true proportions in the population guarantee that the results reported represent the entire population of Americans 60 years old and over.

The study design and execution were done in consultation with the following Advisory Panel: Dr. Marvin Berkowitz, associate director, American Foundation for the Blind; Dr. David Caplovitz, professor of sociology, The Graduate School and University Center, City University of New York; Dr. Anne Foner, professor of sociology, Rutgers College, Rutgers University; Dr. Robert H. Havighurst, professor emeritus, Education Department, University of Chicago; Dr. Elizabeth W. Markson, research coordinator, Boston University Gerontology Center; Jack Ossofsky, executive director, National Council on the Aging, Inc.; Dr. Jackson Toby, professor of sociology, Rutgers College, Rutgers University; and Joan M. Waring, Director of special studies, Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States.

10.3928/0098-9134-19810601-13

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