Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kathrin Boerner

Second Advisor

Kyungmin Kim

Third Advisor

Shevaun D. Neupert


Subjective aging refers to individuals’ understanding and expectations of aging-related changes. Although studies have consistently documented that subjective aging constructs are associated with individuals’ behaviors and well-being in later life, the link between one’s social environment and subjective aging beliefs remains understudied. This three-study dissertation examined how close social ties shape different subjective aging perceptions, by focusing on how individuals in later life view their aging-related changes in family contexts.

Using data from the Boston Aging Together Study¸ the first study explored how health and relationship quality indicators are associated with aging perceptions of very old parents and their children. Findings indicated that individuals’ self-perceptions of aging were more similar within their age group. Very old parents’ self-perceptions of aging were associated with their own depressive symptoms as well as the children’s report of caregiver burden. Children’s self-perceptions of aging were only related to their own characteristics. The findings demonstrate some evidence for the interdependence of subjective aging experiences among very old parents and their children. The second study utilized data from the Korean Baby Boomer Panel Study to examine subjective aging experiences of married Korean baby boomers, namely, how their aging anxiety is shaped in the context of the parents’ and in-law’s financial and health characteristics in midlife. This study examined and found the cumulative effect, as well as the exposure effect, of the health and financial challenges of parents and in-laws on Korean baby boomers’ level of aging anxiety. Furthermore, frequency of contact moderated the effect of the financial condition of the poorest parent/in-law, such that individuals reporting more contact with the poorest parent/in-law showed higher levels of aging anxiety than those with less contact.

Finally, drawing on three waves of quadrennial data (2008–2016) from the Health and Retirement Study, the third study examined how changes in health and relationship quality with a spouse over time contribute to aging perceptions of married older men and women. Multilevel models showed that there was no gender difference in self-perceptions of aging at baseline and how positive self-perceptions of aging changed over time. However, the changes in health and relationship quality affected men and women differently at both within-person and between-person level. Men’s self-perceptions of aging were particularly sensitive to changes in relationship quality, whereas women’s self-perceptions of aging were particularly sensitive to changes in functional limitations.

In sum, the three studies aimed to form a cohesive body of work that examines multiple ways in which family members (i.e., spouse, parents, and children) mutually influence one another’s aging perceptions. The combination of findings provides support for adapting a life course framework in assessing individuals’ understanding of and attitudes toward own aging. Evidence suggests that interventions aimed at improving aging perceptions should investigate and target late-life family dynamics as one of the key components.


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