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Did you know that the death of a partner can influence your own perception of ageing?

January 2024

The perception of ageing is associated to important life domains of older people, such as their health status or social life. Especially for Germany, however, we know little about the association of the perception of one’s own ageing and partnerships or partnership transitions in (old) age. Therefore, ISS researcher Stefan Mauritz and his co-author Luisa Bischoff examined the following questions in their recent study: How does the individual perception of ageing differ by partnership status? And how does this perception develop with the experience of widowhood, divorce or separation, or a new partnership in later life?

The theoretical concept of “chrononormativity” assumes that the life course is structured by normative expectations based on age limits and life phases. Accordingly, transitions in the life course - such as partnership transitions - can normatively take place at the “right” or the “wrong” time, which in turn could influence the perception of one's own ageing.

In order to answer the research questions, data was derived from two major German ageing studies: six waves of the German Ageing Survey (DEAS, period: 1996-2017, 3,848 respondents) and two waves of the “Quality of Life and Subjective Well-Being of the Very Old in North Rhine-Westphalia” survey (NRW80+, period: 2017-2020, 845 respondents). Older people in retirement were examined using longitudinal regression models. Group differences in the perception of ageing between married, widowed, divorced/separated and repartnered people were analysed as well as individual differences after the experience of widowhood, divorce/separation, and the formation of new partnerships.

The results suggest that the perception of ageing in Germany is only related to partnership status or partnership transitions for single areas of ageing. Widowed people feel more dependent on the help of others than married people. In contrast, after the death of their partner, very old people feel freer to spend their time as they like. Finally, older people with new partnerships have more positive perceptions of ageing than older single people.