Effects of Age Discrimination on Self-perceptions of Aging and Cancer Risk Behaviors

Gerontologist. 2019 May 17;59(Suppl 1):S28-S37. doi: 10.1093/geront/gny183.


Background and objectives: Almost one-third of older adults report experiencing age discrimination. We hypothesized sequential links between older adults' everyday experiences of age discrimination and future health behaviors related to cancer risk through self-perceptions of aging (SPA).

Research design and methods: Participants were community-dwelling respondents (age: 51-96 years) from the 2008, 2012, and 2014 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (N = 4,467). Generalized path models estimated the immediate and enduring effects of age discrimination in 2008 on proximal SPA in 2012 and distal health behaviors in 2014.

Results: Age discrimination was associated with lower positive SPA and higher negative SPA in 2012. The effect of age discrimination on physical activity, smoking, and drinking in 2014 was mediated by positive and negative SPA in 2012. Through subsequent SPA, those who experienced age discrimination in 2008 were less likely to engage in regular moderate physical activity, more likely to smoke, and less likely to drink more than 3 times per week in 2014. Analysis of change in positive and negative SPA showed the effect of age discrimination on physical activity to be mediated by change in positive, but not negative, SPA.

Discussion and implications: The enduring effects of age discrimination were found through a reduction in positive SPA. Elevating positive SPA could be as important as reducing negative SPA for future health behaviors related to cancer risk.

Keywords: HRS; Health behaviors; cancer prevention; subjective aging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Self Concept*