Age identity and subjective well-being: A comparison of the United States and Germany

Gerben J. Westerhof*, Anne E. Barrett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

217 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives. This article investigates the theoretical and empirical relationship between age identity and subjective well-being (SWB) in a cross-national context. Feeling younger than one's actual age is considered a self-enhancing illusion that contributes to SWB even beyond factors predicting age identities and SWB, such as health and socioeconomic status. As the United States is more youth oriented than Germany, age identities are expected to be more adaptive for American adults.

Methods. Data are from respondents between 40 and 74 years of age who participated in the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (N = 2,006) or the German Aging Survey (N = 3,331).

Results. Analyses using the pooled sample reveal that feeling younger than one's actual age is related to higher levels of life satisfaction and positive affect and to lower levels of negative affect, even when controlling for sociodemographic variables. Country-specific analyses indicate that the relationship between age identity and negative affect holds only for the United States.

Discussion. Age identities play a role in more varied aspects of psychosocial adaptation in the United States than in Germany. It is concluded that the cultural context needs to be included more explicitly in gerontological theories and research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S129-S136
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2005
Externally publishedYes


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