You are here: Home / The IPN / Archive / What Role Does Personality Play Regarding Satisfaction in our Later Years of Life?

What Role Does Personality Play Regarding Satisfaction in our Later Years of Life?

August 22nd, 2018

Study examines well-being of senior citizens

 Kiel/Berlin. People state that conscientious, caring and social conduct as well as less nervous or anxious behavior are characteristics of more satisfied people. However, this changes later in life. For example, a certain amount of anxiety has less negative effects on life satisfaction later than in younger years because it may encourage older people to pay more attention to potential risks and to take special care of themselves. This is shown by a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education in Kiel, the Max Planck Institute for Educational Research, Pennsylvania State University and Humboldt University Berlin.

A person's personality is closely related to their circumstances and affects how satisfied they are with their life. For psychologists personality consists of the unique patterns of thought, behavior and experience that make up a person. They distinguish how neurotic, extraverted, open to new experiences, compatible and conscientious a person is. Previous studies have shown that people who are less neurotic, that is, less anxious and nervous, and at the same time more extraverted and compatible in their lives are more satisfied. But does this apply equally to all phases of life, especially to the last years of life?

While most previous studies concentrated on middle age, the scientists evaluated data from more than 600 former respondents of the longitudinal study Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) who had already died and who were between 50 and 101 years old at the time of their death and who had provided information on their health and well-being once a year in the ten years before their death.

As expected, the findings show that personality is also related to life satisfaction in the last years of life. What is surprising, however, is that some personality traits that are positively linked to well-being in earlier years of life are less positively or even negatively related to the development of life satisfaction at the end of life. The results are particularly interesting, as the last ten years of life have often been marked by severe losses, for example in health and mental fitness, as well as by a drastic decline in well-being.

Thus, low neuroticism - i.e., the tendency to be less anxious and more emotionally stable - has a less positive effect on well-being in the last years of life than in earlier phases of life. Similar findings were found for extraversion and tolerability: Particularly extraverted and compatible persons reported a higher life satisfaction a few years before their death, but then showed a greater decrease in well-being shortly before their death, so that at the end of life they were just as or even less satisfied than less extraverted or compatible study participants. "The findings could indicate that elder and very elderly people increasingly benefit from focusing more on particularly close social relationships and also more on their own needs, instead of investing a great deal of energy they no longer have in relationships with a broad circle of friends" says first author Swantje Müller, research assistant at the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education in Kiel, who conducted the analysis during her time as a doctoral student at the Max Planck Doctoral School LIFE.

Interestingly, however, the effect of extraversion was only seen in women, while men's life satisfaction was not related to their extraversion. "This could indicate that social components are more important for women than for men," says Jenny Wagner, formerly at the IPN in Kiel and now professor at the University of Hamburg. Furthermore, it becomes clear from the results that the personality trait conscientiousness, which in earlier studies was frequently associated with a healthy and happy life, still positively affects well-being in later years.

**Original Study**

Mueller, S., Wagner, J., Wagner, G. G., Ram, N., & Gerstorf, D. (2018). How far reaches the power of personality? Personality predictors of terminal decline in well-being. /Journal of Personality and Social Psychology/. doi: 10.1037/pspp0000184