Bénédicte Apouey*

This article was originally published in the September 2021 edition of the 5 papers…in 5 minutes.

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To the traditional view of aging, which emphasizes the decrement of physiologic function, one may be tempted to oppose the notion of “successful aging”. In this approach, popularized by Rowe and Kahn (1987, 1998), successful aging is defined using three clinical and biomedical criteria: absence of serious disease and disability, maintenance of good physical and mental functioning and active participation in social and productive activities. These criteria fall under two domains, namely health and social activities. The approach has been criticized on a number of grounds: in particular, the meaning “successful aging” implies that it would be good to “fight aging”, which is questionable, and successful aging could involve more domains than the two mentioned above.

Bénédicte Apouey’s study fits into this theoretical framework that emphasizes the multidimensional aspect of aging well. The author attempts to shed new light, quantitatively, on the perception of aging well in France, in a context where the social sciences have shown little interest in this subject. More precisely, the aim is to explore the meaning that individuals give to the notion of aging well, on average. The article also highlights the heterogeneity of conceptions according to individual characteristics. The hypothesis underlying the article is that different living conditions lead to distinct perceptions. The study analyzes the conceptions of more than 1700 customers of a not-for-profit insurance company (Harmonie Mutuelle), collected during a quantitative survey conducted in 2016. This survey includes individuals aged 40 to 84. To capture the conception of aging well, respondents were asked, among other things, about the satisfaction domains that matter most to aging well, in their opinion: is it health satisfaction, housing satisfaction, satisfaction with the house environment, etc.?

The results show that the four components of aging well most often cited are health satisfaction, financial satisfaction, family life satisfaction and satisfaction with the marital relation. This confirms that aging well is multidimensional. This result remains true within each level of education. Other common features appear between individuals from different social backgrounds. For example, “enjoying every moment of life” is considered an important factor of aging well regardless of social background.

Social position shapes the conception of aging well. Indeed, defining aging well by health satisfaction, satisfaction with the marital relation, social life satisfaction, and satisfaction with social activities is more frequent when the social position is higher. Conversely, defining aging well as housing satisfaction or satisfaction with the house environment is significantly more common when the social position is lower. This could be explained by the fact that housing conditions are more often difficult and by the smaller distance from necessity, for people from low socioeconomic status background.



Original title of the article: Inégalités socio-économiques et conceptions subjectives du bien-vieillir. Résultats d’une enquête quantitative

Published in: Retraite et société, 2020/2 (no. 84), 13-40

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