Almar Kok, affiliated with the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam, investigated from the perspective of older adults themselves which elements contribute to such resilience.
Socioeconomic inequalities in health are large and persistent. However, research on these inequalities tends to neglect the fact that some older adults display high physical, mental and social functioning until high ages, despite having had a low socioeconomic position (SEP) throughout their lives. These individuals may be considered ‘resilient’.
Almar Kok conducted semi-structured interviews with eleven older adults aged 78-93 years, who were resilient according to quantitative criteria. Analyses yielded six themes related to resilience:
a) Drawing instrumental support from social contacts;
b) Investing in younger generations by encouraging their careers or transferring knowledge;
c) Taking actions to adapt to or improve one’s socioeconomic circumstances, including careful money management or investing in self-development;
d) Putting the importance of one’s SEP into perspective by valuing one’s own skills or positively emphasizing general improvements in living conditions;
e) Persevering and holding on to faith; and
f) Resigning oneself to adversity.
Almar concludes that it takes a lot for older adults with a low SEP to age successfully. Social, psychological, and societal factors are involved. Focusing on socioeconomic health inequalities from a resilience perspective indicated elements that deserve more attention in future research, including generativity and entrepeneurship. Co-authors of this study were Martijn Huisman, Fenna van Nes and Guy Widdershoven. It was recently published in The Gerontologist.