Perceived Control Across the Second Half of Life: The Role of Physical Health and Social Integration

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Perceived control is a key component of successful aging and may serve as a protective factor against age-related declines in central domains of functioning. However, it is a largely open question whether and how perceived control changes from midadulthood to very old age and how such change is shaped by health and social contexts. To examine these questions, we apply growth models to up to 15-year 4-wave longitudinal data from the German Ageing Survey (DEAS; N = 10,081; aged 40–85 years at baseline; 49% women). Results revealed that perceived control is relatively stable in midlife, but starts to decline after midlife. Starting at 70, perceived control declines an average of a quarter of a SD per 10 years. Suffering from comorbidity and functional limitations were each associated with considerably lower perceived control. Volunteering and less loneliness were each uniquely associated with higher perceived control, over and above the other social factors as well as sociodemographic and health variables. Surprisingly, less social support was associated with stronger perceived control. We also found significant interaction effects suggesting that the combination of functional limitations with older age and loneliness with lower education were each associated with particularly compromised perceived control. Overall we found little evidence for correlates of change in perceived control, with only the loneliness—control association becoming slightly weaker over time. We take our findings to suggest that various different facets of social integration later in life are uniquely relevant for perceived control and suggest routes for further inquiry.

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