Using the capability approach to understand the determinants of subjective well-being among community-dwelling older people in New Zealand

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Abstract

Background: as the longevity of the population increases, attention has turned to quality of life of older people as a component of healthy ageing. The objective of this study was to use Welch Saleeby's model of the capability approach to explore the determinants of subjective well-being among older people.

Methods: this analysis used data from a sample of older people, aged 50–87, from 2012 wave of the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Ageing (NZLSA) (n = 2,793). Structural equation modelling was used to examine the relationships between the commodities (number of chronic conditions reported, physical and mental health), and personal and environmental factors (economic living standard and discrimination), on the capabilities of older people to achieve well-being.

Results: the findings supported Welch Saleeby's model. Capabilities mediated the relationship between commodities and well-being, indicating that increasing the range of real opportunities available to older people is a key step in increasing well-being. Age and gender were also found to be significant moderators of these relationships. The relationship between economic living standards and well-being was weakest for the oldest participants, but experiences of discrimination had a stronger effect on well-being in this age group.

Conclusion: Welch Saleeby's model of the capability approach provides a useful framework for advancing the ethics of care as it highlights the multidimensional nature of well-being in later life. Focusing on expanding capabilities for older people enables policymakers and practitioners to understand the resources and supports required to enable well-being in the context of health challenges.

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