Social Mobility and Sense of Purpose From Midlife to Old Age: Examining the Role of Major Life Events

Res Aging. 2022 Sep 2;1640275221121588. doi: 10.1177/01640275221121588. Online ahead of print.


Purpose in life (PIL) has been linked with numerous health benefits and adaptive aging, yet it diminishes with age, possibly due to loss of social or familial roles through life transitions. Drawing from the longitudinal surveys of the Midlife in the US study (n = 3418), we use time-varying coefficient models to investigate how the trajectory of PIL differs across cumulatively (dis)advantaged, upwardly mobile, and downwardly mobile groups and the role of major life events in shaping these trajectories. We found the upwardly mobile group exhibits higher PIL than the cumulatively disadvantaged and downwardly mobile groups. The consistently disadvantaged group experiences more adverse events at non-normative times. Socioeconomic status disparities in PIL during old age decrease after controlling for life events. We discuss how and why well-being changes and the role of structural and social factors in facilitating or impeding the development or maintenance of PIL over the life course.

Keywords: aging; life course; life events; purpose in life; socioeconomic status; well-being.