Successful aging was defined as survival to age 75 with good health and happiness.

The best predictors of successful aging were initial health and happiness, which together correctly predicted the success status of 74% of the sample. The strongest explanatory factors were secondary group activities and physical activities. Thus, group and physical activities may contribute to successful aging.

Predictors of Successful Aging1
Erdman Palmore, PhD2

The concept "successful aging" has sometimes been equated with life satisfaction or morale (Havighurst, 1961; Williams & Wirth, 1965), and sometimes with survival and good health (Nowlin, 1977). A more comprehensive definition of successful aging would combine all three of these elements: survival (longevity), health (lack of disability), and life satisfaction (happiness). The purpose of this paper is to find the strongest predictors of successful aging and to analyze the strongest explanatory factors for successful aging among a panel of normal community residents. The findings will be related to the controversy between activity and disengagement theories. There have been numerous studies of factors associated with mortality and a few predicting longevity (Palmore & Jeffers, 1971). Predictors of longevity include being female, being physically active, not smoking, having good cognitive functioning, having higher socioeconomic status, having more social activity, having greater life satisfaction, having greater work satisfaction, and having a higher happiness rating. In the First Duke Longitudinal Study, work satisfaction and the happiness rating were the two best predictors of age-sex standardized longevity. In general, the predictors of longevity also predict better health among the survivors. There have also been numerous studies of factors associated with life satisfaction among the aged (Larson, 1978). The factors include better health, higher socioeconomic status, being single or married (as opposed to widowed, divorced, or separated), and more social activity (especially organizational activity).
'This research was supported in part by AC-00364, NIA, USPHS. William P. Cleveland provided statistical consultation. 'Duke Ctr. for the Study of Aging and Human Development, Box 3003, Duke Medical Dr., Durham, NC 27710.

There has usually been found little or no relationship between life satisfaction and age, race, sex, and employment, once controls are made for health and income. There have been few studies of predictors of life satisfaction. In the Second Duke Longitudinal Study, the strongest predictors of life satisfaction were health, social activity, and sexual enjoyment (Palmore & Kivett, 1977). Notice that there is considerable overlap in these sets of predictors: health, higher SES, and activity predict both longevity and satisfaction.
The First Duke Longitudinal Study

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Sample. — The sample includes the 155 persons in the First Duke Longitudinal Study of Aging who were aged 60 to 74 at the initial examination. The study began in 1955 with a panel of noninstitutionalized persons aged 60 to 94 and includes 11 observations of the panelists over a period of 21 years. The panelists, who were recruited to participate in periodic two-day examinations, were selected from a pool of volunteers so as to ensure that their age, sex, racial, and socioeconomic characteristics would reflect those in the community. Panelists tended to have higher social status, better health, and a more active life than older persons generally. All longitudinal studies of older persons, and even social surveys of older persons employing probability samples, have this bias because advantaged persons tend to participate in such studies more frequently than disadvantaged persons. Therefore, attempts to generalize from findings in this study should be done with caution, keeping in mind the above-average nature of its sample. For further information on the study see Palmore (1970). Successful aging. — We defined successful aging persons as those who met three criteria:

Vol. 19, No. 5,1979


pushed arette smoking. intelligence (WAIS verbal and aside. Downloaded from http://gerontologist.. no radio or television. 1949. — On the basis of previous re. to 6 for six answers indicating usefulness. Of the not successful. sex. The effect of estimating these missing "nothing to do" to 9 for "time filled with daily scores was less than 0.7. 13 were unhealthy but happy. The 155 persons included 72 males and 83 females. 18 variables from the first employment. attitude There were three measures of socioeconomic scales (usefulness. The work satisfaction scale was based on agreement or disagreement with six statements such as "I am satisfied with the work I now do" and "I have no work to look forward to. the predictors of successful aging were measured about nine years prior to the determination of the outcome (successful or not successful). wanted. and prestige rating).to include all useful activities.activities. was also part of the Cavan Adjustment Rating and ranged from 0 for "unhappy. Most had only one friends" to 9 for "daily contacts. performance). to the exclusion of group activities." The scale ranged from 0 for no answers indicating usefulness." The prestige rating 1953). frustrated" to 9 for "very happy. gets lavish attention. feels disrespect on the part of others/' to 9 for "feels in a position of high status.for no formal education' to 10 for PhD or other cation. The primary-group activities rating ranged from 0 for sons in this analysis had one or more scores in "alone in the world. and 21 were healthy but unhappy. the Cavan Adjustment Rating and ranged from 0 physical-function rating. (1) survival to age 75: (2) a physical-function rating indicating less than 20% disability (see next section)." to 9 for "feels greatly beloved. Havighurst. happiness rating. 1951). nobody cares. hobbies. and emo." of the Cavan Adjustment Rating: primary group. The usefulness scale was based on agreement or disagreement with six statements such as "My life is still busy and useful" and "I feel now that my life is not very useful. Doctoral degrees. marital status. "Work" was broadly defined Predictors. or these predictors missing.score missing.oxfordjournals. work satisfaction. examination were selected for testing as predicThe emotional security rating was also part of tors of successful aging: age. not just paid search and theory. etc. at MIT Libraries on April 27. There were 70 persons who met these three criteria and so were classified as successful aging. financial status. no family." to 9 for "time filled with many Woodbury and Larry Dowdy was used to estigroups." The happiness rating was part of the Cavan ing from 1 for "can't make ends meet" to 4 for Adjustment Rating (Havighurst & Albrecht." The number of physical activities was the number of different physical or locomotor activities the person mentioned in response to the question "What do you do with your free time?" The usefulness and work satisfaction scales were part of the Chicago "Inventory of Activities and Attitudes" (Cavan et al. low status. and socioeconomic status (edu. and (3) a happiness rating indicating generally or always happy. great contentment. Years of education was coded as 0 tional security). cig. to save these cases for the overall analysis. The other 85 were classified as not successful. much reading. opinexultant. 15 were both unhealthy and unhappy at age 75. 36 did not survive to 75." secondary group. closely incor. and solitary activities.status used. — Forty-four of the 155 persecondary group.1 on any mean value. physical. The average number of years for survivors between first examination and the examination past age 75 was 8. In order activities rating ranged from 0 for "in no groups. given by the interviewing social worker. a prono reading. plans. activities ratings (primary group. "well-to-do" or "wealthy. successful aging was treated as a dichotomy. The secondary-group scores was only 4% of the total scores." Three of the activities ratings were also part ions sought and followed.for "feels unwanted." It ranged from 0 for no work satisfaction to 6 for the maximum work satisfaction. Thus. Missing scores. discontented. complete gram developed at the Duke Center by Max social isolation. always on the go or mate the value of the missing score based on occupied with reading. The financial status variable The physical-function rating was a rating was based on responses to the question "How given by the examining physician. and solitary). and ranged from 0 for "feels looked down on. worried. contented and unworried (see next section). ranging from would you describe your present financial position in life?" The responses were scored as rang0 for total disability to 5 for "no pathology." recursive linear regressions on all the other variThe solitary activities rating ranged from 0 for ables. 2012 428 The Gerontologist . relatives. and the total number of missing porated into group life". fearful. 100 whites and 55 Blacks.

Downloaded from http://gerontologist. both variables study. The strong predictive values of secondary order correlations with successful aging (scored 0 for not successful.44** . Ten variables had significant correlations (. 1974. and Physical . prestige had a strong predictive value What Makes the Difference? among women but not among men. usefulness. * = p < .08 Usefulness Work satisfaction "work" was broadly defined to include nonpaid . and (physical function and happiness) were also part of the criteria of later successful aging. and with successful aging among men or women or especially the explanatory predictors. Significant Predictors of Successful Aging. 1 for successful).04 Prestige correlations with successful aging among both Financial Status . Palmore & Kivett. physical activities.19* affected by work satisfaction (probably because Attitudes few women were employed even though .38** Happiness rating.42** . Socioeconomic status Solitary activities had smaller. cigarette smoking. while the Significant predictors.22* work satisfaction for men. The two strongest predictors among both men not help explain what contributes to successful and women were the physical-function rating aging. Women seemed less Solitary .25* . Table a general finding is that the best single predictor 2 shows that there were three such explanatory of a score at a later point in time is usually the variables for each sex: for women they were. because both of these ratings first stage only those significant explanatory are used as criteria for successful aging when the variables which increased the variance experson reaches age 75. for men of people's behavior and attitudes over time. we next both (Table 1).31* the physical-function rating and happiness .org/ at MIT Libraries on April 27. 19. When physical functioning and happiness cessful aging (at age 75) is whether the person was successfully aging at the beginning of the were added in the second stage.46** . but not among men. tudes on successful aging. they do primary group activities. secondary-group activity. WAIS perfor. In longitudinal research plained in successful aging by 1 % or more.27* . and physical activity. but only happi74% of the cases as to their later successful or ness provided a significant increase for men. Simple Correlation with among both men and women.30* ables was physical activities for women.among men but not among women. In order to examine the relative strength and the happiness rating (at first examination). The second strongest of these other variActivities Secondary group . 1977).Of more interest are the other eight significant (zero order) predictors. and solitary activity.14 Emotional security work).group activities. but still significant . The total regression equations (corrected for degrees unsuccessful aging.41** . education.37** .05 Emotional security had a moderate relation** = p < .17 .cessful aging. the main analysis was Multiple regression. — We first tested all 18 financial status had a significant relationship variables to find which had significant zero. of the explanatory variables. analysis of the 10 significant predictors of sucsex. Among the socioeconomic indicators. step-wise multiple-regression nificant correlations with successful aging: age.faction. Eight variables did not have sig. work satisthis case it means that the best predictor of suc. Since the strongest predictors mance.08 .did a two-stage. 2012 Vol. was secondary Successful Aging Predictor Women (N = 83) Men(N = 72) group activity (Table 1). in person's scores on that variable at an earlier order of importance. No. — In order to test the reladone separately for men and women.05 level) tive importance of the significant predictors. Table 1.33* . 5.1979 429 . we entered in the This was expected. A discriminant function analysis with provided statistically significant increases in the just these two predictors correctly classified variance explained for women. Since pre. This reflects the basic consistency physical activity. WAIS verbal.oxfordjournals. point in time. The strongest of these. In they were secondary-group activity. marital status.01 ship to successful aging among women. This had almost as strong correlations with successful aging as did Physical function .20** . vious research has shown that the strength of and work satisfaction seem to point to the prepredictors of longevity and life satisfaction vary dominant influence of such activities and attibetween men and women (Palmore.21* men and women. but were more affected by usefulness.

there may be an indirect effect of physical activity and health on greater mental health and feelings of life satisfaction.300a .381 .502 .546 .419 .342a . activity theory is also supported in regard to physical activity. group activity gives a sense of belonging.097 . 430 The Gerontologist . morale.Table 2. inactivity leads to atrophy of muscles. Secondary-group activity was much lower on the average. we entered them one at a time after the variables discussed above. This seems to support activity theory and contradict disengagement theory.334 . and social gratification.215a .125 .67. greater physical activity contributes directly to better health. Greater participation in secondary groups probably contributes to successful aging on three levels: physical. In other words. and social. nor years of education had significant correlations with successful aging suggests that intelligence and education by themselves contribute little to successful aging. 2012 increase in variance explained is statistically significant at .02.026 .087 Multiple Correlation (R) Women (N = 83) .300 . etc. On the social level. but only in regard to secondary-group activity. but only the more active and involved belonged to several groups and participated in them regularly enough for their participation to contribute to successful aging. All these processes contribute toward better mental and physical health. rather it is more important what one does with one's intelligence or education. not in primary-group activity.121 Downloaded from http://gerontologist. psychological.oxfordjournals. of freedom) explained about one-quarter of the variance in successful aging among women and one-eighth among the men. reality orientation. bones.112a . and thus represents a more critical factor in successful aging.145 .021 . and so had enough to allow successful aging. None of these eight variables increased the variance explained by a statistically significant (.002 .585 .354 . and in short.05) amount among women or men. group activity helps mental stimulation. In order to test whether the eight variables without significant (zero-order) correlations might show some significant association in a multiple regression.252a . This interpretation is supported by several previous studies which have found group participation to be related to longevity (Palmore & Jeffers. The relationship of physical activity to successful aging seems fairly clear. it appears that most of the participants had sufficient family and friend contacts.027 . and general mental health.05 level.218a . Discussion.082a . maintenance of interaction skills. in a third stage of the analysis.467 . In addition. purpose.110 .158 .464 .016 . The fact that primary-group activities had almost no relationship to successful aging may be explained by the fact that most of the participants in this study had fairly high levels of primary-group activity. circulatory system.001 Slope (B) .057 . — The fact that neither verbal nor performance intelligence. p = < . 1978). toward successful aging.243 Variance Explained (R2) Men (N = 72) Secondary group activity Work satisfaction Physical activity Physical function Happiness R2 corrected for degrees of freedom F value of equation = at MIT Libraries on April 27.01 . On the psychological level. Group participation usually involves some physical activity which helps maintain physical health. Thus. 1971) and to life satisfaction (Larson.176a . Multiple Regression of Strongest Predictors of Successful Aging Predictor Secondary group activity Physical activity Solitary activity Physical function Happiness RJ corrected for degrees of freedom F value of equation = 8. p = < .

. & Jeffers. Williams. Palmore. Thirty-years of research on the subjective wellbeing of older Americans. the practical implication for practitioners and older persons seems to be that secondary-group and physical activity may help prolong healthy and happy aging. Cerontologist. Duke Univ. E. Change in life satisfaction Journal of Gerontology. References Cavan. Normal aging. New York. Validity of the Chicago Attitude Inventory as a means of personal adjustment in old age.. MA. NIC.. 1965. Downloaded from http://gerontologist. Havighurst. 311-316.. 1971. W77. E. Longmans. Palmore. DC Heath Co. Durham. No.. Succesful aging. E. 7. R. In the meantime. New York. those who are healthy and happy are also more likely to remain active in organizations and remain more physically active (as well as vice versa). H.. Duke at MIT Libraries on April 27. Normal aging. E. Havighurst. R. 1961. 46. This indicates that men and women who are more active in organizations and who engage in more physical activity are more likely to age successfully.. R. these findings do support the activity theory of aging (Havighurst. Havighurst.32. & Kivett. Press. NC. However. C.Conclusions Conclusions based on these findings should be considered tentative due to the limited sample and the problem of imputing causality to predictors. 1978. There is probably a reciprocal causal relationship between these variables. Journal of Gerontology. 19. 4-7. Chicago. Lives through the years. & Albrecht. Larson. E. R. 1953. 1970. the prospective design of this study ensures that successful aging (the outcome) did not cause the earlier activity (the predictor).oxfordjournals. these findings do suggest that secondary-group and physical activity contribute to successful aging. Atherton Press. 109-129. 1951. & Goldhamer. 2012 Vol. Palmore. Thus. & Wirth.1979 431 . Older people. R. However. with work satisfaction also being important for men. R. Lexington. 1949. Press. Science Research Assoc. A careful experimental study with long-term follow-up would be required to test this theory. V. II. R. 1961) in that two of the strongest explanatory predictors of successful aging among both men and women were secondary-group activity and physical activity. Palmore. R. Prediction of life span. Personal adjustment in old age. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 5. Havighurst. F. 1974. Durham. It remains to be tested whether increasing group and physical activity would increase successful aging. 33.. 24-29. Burgess.

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