Aging in a Cultural Context: Cross-national Differences in Disability and the Moderating Role of Personal Control Among Older Adults in the United States and England

We investigate cross-national differences in late-life health outcomes and focus on an intriguing difference in beliefs about personal control found between older adult populations in the U.K. and United States. We examine the moderating role of control beliefs in the relationship between physical function and self-reported difficulty with daily activities. Using national data from the United States (Health and Retirement Study) and England (English Longitudinal Study on Ageing), we examine the prevalence in disability across the two countries and show how it varies according to the sense of control. Poisson regression was used to examine the relationship between objective measures of physical function (gait speed) and disability and the modifying effects of control. Older Americans have a higher sense of personal control than the British, which operates as a psychological resource to reduce disability among older Americans. However, the benefits of control are attenuated as physical impairments become more severe. These results emphasize the importance of carefully considering cross-national differences in the disablement process as a result of cultural variation in underlying psychosocial resources. This paper highlights the role of culture in shaping health across adults aging in different sociopolitical contexts.