Culture and well-being in late adulthood: Theory and evidence

Am Psychol. 2020 May-Jun;75(4):567-576. doi: 10.1037/amp0000614.


Aging happens to everyone everywhere. At present, however, little is known about whether life-span adult development-and particularly development in late adulthood-is pancultural or culture-bound. Here, we propose that in Western cultural contexts, individuals are encouraged to maintain the active, positive, and independent self. This cultural expectation continues even in late adulthood, thus leading to a mismatch between aspirations to live up to the cultural expectation and the reality of aging. This mismatch is potentially alienating. In contrast, in Asian cultural contexts, a critical task throughout life is to achieve attunement with age-graded social roles. This ideal may be more attainable even in late adulthood. Our review of existent evidence lends support to this analysis. Specifically, in late adulthood, Americans showed a robust psychological bias toward high-arousal positive (vs. negative) emotions. This positivity, however, concealed a somber aspect of aging that manifested itself in more demanding realms of life. Thus, Americans in late adulthood also showed marked declines in certain desirable personality traits (e.g., extraversion and conscientiousness) and some aspects of the meaning in life (e.g., personal growth and purpose in life). None of these effects were apparent among East Asians. The current work underscores a need to extend research on life-span development beyond Western populations. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Asia, Eastern
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Healthy Aging / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • United States