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Psychol Aging. 2015 Jun;30(2):301-10. doi: 10.1037/pag0000016. Epub 2015 Mar 23.

Secular changes in late-life cognition and well-being: Towards a long bright future with a short brisk ending?

Author information

Institute of Psychology, Humboldt University.
Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), German Institute for Economic Research.
Center for Lifespan Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
Research Group on Geriatrics, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin.
Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Geneva.
Research Group on Geriatrics, Charité - Universitätsmedizin.
Max Planck Institute for Human Development.


How sociocultural contexts shape individual functioning is of prime interest for psychological inquiry. Secular increases favoring later-born cohorts in fluid intelligence measures are widely documented for young adults. In the current study, we quantified such trends in old age using data from highly comparable participants living in a narrowly defined geographical area and examined whether these trends would generalize to quality-of-life indicators. To do so, we compared data obtained 20 years apart in the Berlin Aging Study (in 1990-1993) and the Berlin Aging Study II (in 2013-2014), applied a case-matched control design (per cohort, n = 161, Mage = 75), quantified sample selection using a nationally representative sample as the reference, and controlled for number of physical diseases. The later cohort performed better on the fluid intelligence measure (d = .85) and reported higher morale, less negative affect, and more positive affect (ds > .39) than the earlier cohort. We concluded that secular advances have resulted in better cognitive performance and perceived quality of life among older adults and discuss when and how advantages of later cohorts reach their limits.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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