When Mental Health Becomes Health: Age and the Shifting Meaning of Self-Evaluations of General Health

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Paper Abstract
Do self-evaluations of general health change as individuals age? Although several perspectives point to age-related shifts, few researchers have compared them. For this article, several competing hypotheses were tested using a large, nationally representative, and longitudinal data set. The results suggest two trends. First, the correspondence between functional limitations and self-rated health declines, especially after age 50. Similarly, the correspondence between various chronic conditions and self-rated health declines with age. These findings are consistent with social comparison theory. Yet, the results also suggest that the correspondence between depressive symptoms and self-rated health increases. Indeed, after age 74, the correspondence between self-rated health and some common symptoms of depression becomes stronger than that between self-rated health and several chronic, and often fatal, somatic conditions. This crossover has important implications for the detection and treatment of depressive symptoms in later life.
Other Published Version(s)

The Milbank Quarterly, 83(3), 397-423, Sep 2005.