Abstract: The Effect of Objective and Subjective Social Isolation on Self-Perceptions of Aging (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

355P The Effect of Objective and Subjective Social Isolation on Self-Perceptions of Aging

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Rita Hu, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Background and Purpose: Self-perceptions of aging is a critical dimension of ageism along with age stereotypes and age-based discrimination. According to the Stereotype Embodiment Theory, self-perception plays a critical role in explaining how a social and cultural concept gets under the skin. Internalizing age-related stereotypes can lead to more negative self-perceptions of aging such as feeling useless. Self-perception of aging among older adults affects physical, mental, cognitive, and socioemotional well-being. Research suggests that self-perception of aging is stable as people age. However, major changes in life such as retirement, widowhood, health decline impact self-perceptions of aging significantly. The current COVID-19 pandemic exposes older adults to not only higher risks of health decline, but also objective and subjective social isolation due to social distancing. The present study will explore the impact of objective social isolation and subjective loneliness’s impact on self-perceptions of aging using a nationally representative sample.

Methods: Data are from 2008-2018 Health and Retirement Study (HRS)’s Psychosocial Leave Behind Survey to which a probability sample of older adults (50 and older) in the US (N= 3,598) has responded. Objective social isolation was measured by a 6-point scale asking the frequency of meeting up with children, family and friends. Subjective loneliness was accessed by an 11-item Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale. Self-Perception of Aging was assessed by averaging an 8-item scale, which is a combination of the Attitude Toward Own Aging scale and the Satisfaction with Aging Scale. Stepwise linear regressions were conducted separately for objective and subjective social isolation. The covariates are sociodemographic variables including age, gender, race, years of education, employment status, marital status; and health variables including self-rated health, number of functional disabilities, and number of chronic conditions, memory, and depressive symptoms.

Results: Older adults who are more socially connected tend to have more positive self-perceptions of aging four years later after controlling for sociodemographic and health variables (b = 0.30 SE = 0.06 p <0.01). However, the positive relationship between self-perception of aging and objective social connectedness became statistically insignificant after controlling for loneliness (b = 0.009 SE = 0.06 p = 0.32). Older adults who are more lonely were more likely to have a negative self-perception of aging four years later after controlling for sociodemographic and health variables (b = -0.087 SE = 0.006 p <0.01). This negative relationship remained statistically significant after controlling for objective social contact at baseline (b = -0.085 SE = 0.006 p <0.01).

Conclusion and Implications: Both objective and subjective social isolation significantly impact self-perception of aging. To prevent ageism from getting under the skin, social workers need to pay more attention to facilitating healthy social network construction.