IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Between-Person Disparities in the Progression of Late-Life Well-Being


  • Denis Gerstorf
  • Nilam Ram
  • Elizabeth Fauth
  • Jürgen Schupp
  • Gert G. Wagner


Throughout adulthood and old age, levels of well-being appear to remain relatively stable. In this chapter, we argue that focusing on a phase of life during which this positive picture does not necessarily prevail promises to help us better understand between-person disparities in the progression of late-life well-being. In a first step, we review empirical evidence from the German Socio-Economic Panel and other large-scale longitudinal data sets to demonstrate that ubiquitous reports of a "stability-despite-loss phenomenon" of well-being do not generalize into years of life immediately preceding death. Instead, mean-level representations of the end of life are characterized by a rapid deterioration in well-being. In a second step, we highlight the vast heterogeneity in how people experience the last years and consider the role of biopsychosocial individual difference factors to account for such disparities. The select factors reviewed here include socio-demographic characteristics, cognitive fitness, pathology, and disability. In a third step, we argue that macro-contextual factors such as the social, service, and physical characteristics of the communities and societies people are living and dying in also profoundly shape the nature and progression of individual late-life well-being. Our conceptual reasoning forecasts some of the insights that can be gained by pursuing this line of research, but also underscores the challenges researchers must deal with.

Suggested Citation

  • Denis Gerstorf & Nilam Ram & Elizabeth Fauth & Jürgen Schupp & Gert G. Wagner, 2009. "Between-Person Disparities in the Progression of Late-Life Well-Being," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 200, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  • Handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp200

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item


    Late-Life Well-Being; SOEP; BHPS; HRS;

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • Y8 - Miscellaneous Categories - - Related Disciplines

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:
    1. SOEP based publications


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp200. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Bibliothek). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.