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Disability, participation, and subjective wellbeing among older couples

Publication Abstract

Freedman, Vicki, Frank P. Stafford, Norbert Schwarz, Frederick G. Conrad, and Jennifer C. Cornman. 2012. "Disability, participation, and subjective wellbeing among older couples." Social Science and Medicine, 74(4): 588-596.

This paper investigates the link between disability and subjective wellbeing, using data from the 2009 Disability and Use of Time supplement to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the longest running national panel study in the United States. Disability is construed broadly to include both the presence of any physical, cognitive, or sensory impairment or activity limitation and also the severity of underlying impairments. Subjective wellbeing is measured using two distinct approaches: reports of life satisfaction and of moment-to-moment wellbeing both positive and negative on the previous day. The latter, collected through 24-h time diaries, also offers for the first time the ability to explore the role of participation in particular kinds of activities linking disability to subjective wellbeing. The analytic sample included married persons ages 60 and older and their spouses (n = 751 married individuals) who completed 1498 diaries. Several new findings emerged: no matter what the measure of wellbeing, older married adults with disability report worse subjective wellbeing than those without, and neither different demographic and socioeconomic profiles nor differences in participation fully account for these disparities. Influences of disability on global life satisfaction and episodic reports of happiness were relatively small and of comparable size. However, notably sizeable differences were identified in the cumulative number of pleasant minutes experienced yesterday by disability status - on the order of 71 fewer minutes on average for those with a disability of average severity. Differences appear to be more strongly linked to somatic symptoms of pain and feeling tired than to differential intensity of experiencing happiness, sadness, frustration, or worry. We also found limited support for the notion that participation partially mediates the relationship between disability and global, but not episodic, subjective wellbeing. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

DOI:10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.10.018 (Full Text)

PMCID: PMC3371257. (Pub Med Central)

Country of focus: United States of America.

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