Historical Change in Midlife Health, Well-Being, and Despair: Cross-Cultural and Socioeconomic Comparisons

TitleHistorical Change in Midlife Health, Well-Being, and Despair: Cross-Cultural and Socioeconomic Comparisons
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsInfurna, FJ, Staben, O, Lachman, ME, Gerstorf, D
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Keywordsadult development, culture change, KLoSA, MHAS, socioeconomic differences

Recent empirical evidence has documented that US middle-aged adults today are reporting lower mental and physical health than same-aged peers several decades ago. Individuals who attained fewer years of education have been most vulnerable to these historical changes. One overarching question is whether this phenomenon is confined to the US or whether it is transpiring across other high-income and upper-middle-income nations. To examine this question, we use nationally representative longitudinal panel data from five nations across different continents and cultural backgrounds (US, Australia, Germany, South Korea, and Mexico). Results revealed historical improvements in physical health for people in their 40s and early 50s across all five nations. Conversely, the direction of historical change in mental health vastly differed across nations. Later-born cohorts of US middle-aged adults exhibit worsening mental health and cognition. Australian middle-aged adults also experienced worsening mental health with historical time. In contrast, historical improvements for mental health were observed in Germany, South Korea, and Mexico. For US middle-aged adults, the protective effect of education diminished in later-born cohorts. Consistent across the other nations, individuals with fewer years of education were most vulnerable to historical declines or benefitted the least from
historical improvements. We discuss potential reasons underlying similarities and differences between the US and other nations in these historical trends and consider the role of education.

Citation Key11451
PubMed ID34914427