Beliefs about aging and later life health and well-being among the elderly in Taiwan

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Fan, Tai-hsi Daisy, 1978-

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Most of the empirical research on later life well-being in Taiwan has focused on demographic, structural factors and resources flow, and tended to ignore the meaning and beliefs older Taiwanese assign to aging and the consequences. In light of dramatic social transformation and the changing nature of elderly support, the empirical test of the values and beliefs about later life and their effects may provide a significant viewpoint in understanding why some older adults in Taiwan are healthier and live longer than others. This project employs a national representative data drawn from the Survey of Health and Living Status of the Elderly in Taiwan in year 1996 and 1999. Beliefs about aging are conceptualized into several constructs and each is linked to three dimensions of health outcomes: physical health, mental health and mortality. In addition, I tested whether engagement in healthy habits, supportive social relationships, and greater involvement in social activities account for the associations. Results suggest that general higher levels of positive beliefs about aging are predictive of improved health and longevity over time. When I divide general beliefs into positive and negative domains, I find that positive beliefs improve health largely through life style factors. While, compared to positive beliefs, negative beliefs seem to exert stronger effects on health through pathways well beyond an individual's lifestyle. That is, pessimistic views on aging may be more detrimental to health because domains related to negative beliefs (e.g., "boredom and uselessness" and "financial insecurity") directly challenge an individual's desires to search for a sense of meaning, purpose and security later in life. Taken together, this study shows that positive beliefs about aging shape proactive behaviors and translate limited resources into opportunities, eventually leading to better health outcomes. In contrast, viewing aging in an unfavorable way may limit an individual's pursuit for a better life, and, in turn, impact health and well-being, regardless the actual resources possessed by the individuals. Therefore, this study suggests despite physically intact, generally active, and supportive relationships, the individual's subjective perception of aging is another important determinant in securing a healthy later life among elderly Taiwanese.