Themes from older men's lay definitions of successful aging as indicators of primary and secondary control beliefs over time: The Manitoba Follow-up Study

J Aging Stud. 2013 Dec;27(4):410-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jaging.2013.09.004. Epub 2013 Oct 18.


Constructs of control have theoretically been equated to successful aging in the psychology literature. Hence, we used themes from lay definitions of successful aging to quantify the prevalence of primary and secondary control beliefs over time. In doing so we hoped to shed new light upon the virtually uncharted area of older men's primary and secondary control beliefs over time. Using successful aging narratives spanning a 10-year timeframe from the Manitoba Follow-up Study cohort, we mapped themes from older men's lay definitions of successful aging onto Rothbaum, Weisz, and Snyder's (1982) constructs of primary and secondary control. We then examined the prevalence of the constructs of control over 10 years and found that some men emphasized primary control, some emphasized secondary control, and others emphasized both, prospectively. Counter to what had previously been theorized, many older men continued to emphasize primary control as important well into late life. As expected, secondary control became more important with age. Furthermore, among those men who endorsed both primary and secondary control, significantly more men switched emphasis from primary to secondary control beliefs as they aged. This finding supported Rothbaum et al.'s (1982) surmise that individuals could switch from one type of control to another, presumably as life circumstances dictated. Knowing which types of control beliefs older men emphasize as they age has theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, it sheds new light on the under-researched area of control beliefs in older men. Practically, it is informative for anyone interested in enhancing older men's perceptions of control in very late life, particularly in the face of otherwise uncontrollable age-related decline and imminent demise.

Keywords: Control beliefs; Lay definitions; Narratives; Prevalence; Primary control; Secondary control; Successful aging; Trends in prevalence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Men / psychology*
  • Narration
  • Perception
  • Physical Fitness
  • Time Factors