Long-Term Antecedents of Constraints and Mastery: Findings From the Health and Retirement Study

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Abstract

Whereas it is well established that having a sense of control over one’s life circumstances facilitates positive aging-related outcomes across adulthood and old age, far less is known about what factors contribute to perceived control and whether these factors differ across the adult life span. We used longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study (N = 7,624, M age at 2006 = 67.50 years, range 50–104, 59% women) to examine whether level of, and time-related change in, episodic memory, depressive symptoms, and health (functional limitations, self-rated health) predict levels of 2 distinct components of perceived control: constraints and mastery. We found that lower levels of memory, more depressive symptoms, and less positive self-rated health were each associated with higher levels of constraints. Increases in depressive symptoms and functional limitations were also associated with higher levels of constraints, whereas stability in memory was related to lower levels of constraints. Conversely, lower levels of, and declines in, depressive symptoms and functional limitations as well as higher self-rated health were associated with self-reported higher levels of mastery. We found some evidence to suggest that these effects differ across the adult life span. Our findings show that, across adulthood and old age, constraints and mastery are shaped by level of, and time-related changes in, key domains of functioning. These findings provide impetus for future research to target mechanisms and moderators of such associations.

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