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.