Terminal decline in well-being: The role of social orientation

Denis Gerstorf, Christiane A. Hoppmann, Corinna E. Löckenhoff, Frank J. Infurna, Jürgen Schupp, Gert G. Wagner, Nilam Ram

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Well-being development at the end of life is often characterized by steep deteriorations, but individual differences in these terminal declines are substantial and not yet well understood. This study moved beyond typical consideration of health predictors and explored the role of social orientation and engagement. To do so, we used social variables at the behavioral level (self-ratings of social participation) and the motivational level (valuing social and family goals), assessed 2 to 4 years before death. We applied single- and multiphase growth models to up to 27-year annual longitudinal data from 2,910 now deceased participants of the nation-wide German Socio-Economic Panel Study (Mage at death = 74 years; SD = 14; 48% women). Results revealed that leading a socially active life and prioritizing social goals in late life were independently associated with higher late-life well-being, less pronounced late-life decline, and a later onset of terminal decline. Significant interaction effects suggested that the combination of (reduced) social participation and (lowered) social goals magnifies the effects of each other. Findings also indicated that less decline in social participation was associated with less severe rates and a later onset of well-being decline. We found little evidence that valuing family goals is associated with late-life trajectories of well-being. Associations were independent of key correlates of well-being and mortality, including age at death, gender, education, disability, hospital stays, and goals in other life domains. We discuss possible pathways by which maintaining social orientation into late life may help mitigate terminal decline in well-being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-165
Number of pages17
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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