The race paradox in subjective wellbeing among older Americans

Publication Abstract

TANG, FENGYAN, Heejung Jang, MARY BETH RAUKTIS, DONALD MUSA, and SCOTT BEACH. 2019. "The race paradox in subjective wellbeing among older Americans." Ageing and Society, 39(3): 568-589.

This study aims to assess racial differences in subjective wellbeing (SWB) and to examine whether the pathways of social support and social engagement to SWB vary by racial groups in the United States of America. Using a local sample (N = 1,035) and a nationally representative sample of the Health and Retirement Study (N = 7,718), we compared life satisfaction and happiness between non-Hispanic Whites and Blacks aged 55 and over. We evaluated the extent to which race, other socio-demographic characteristics, health, social engagement and social support explained the variances in SWB and examined the moderation effects of race on the relationships of SWB with age, social support and social engagement. Multiple regression analyses showed that non-Hispanic Blacks were at least as satisfied as, and even happier than White peers, after equalising social resources and health variables. Social support was significantly related to SWB, and it seemed that positive support was more important to Whites than to Blacks in predicting life satisfaction. In addition, the racial crossover effect existed, that is, the old-old (80+) Blacks were happier than their White peers. Findings indicate a national trend of the race paradox in SWB and underscore the importance of social support in promoting older adults' wellbeing. Future research is recommended to investigate other potential mechanisms among Black older Americans to explain their relatively better SWB.


subjective wellbeing happiness life satisfaction race social support social engagement

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