Life experience and longevity: Findings from the Berlin Aging Study

Factors associated with education, social status, health, and psychological makeup are indicators of life experience and are also associated with quality of life in old age. Do these factors also contribute to a longer life? Data from the Berlin Aging Study (BASE; see Baltes/Mayer 1999), a locally representative sample of men and women aged 70 to 100+, are examined to determine whether status on these dimensions of life experience 1) differs between individuals in the early phase of old age (young old) and individuals who have survived beyond the average life expectancy of this birthcohort (age 85 plus, the so-called Fourth Age), and 2) predicts survival during old age. After controls for age and gender, health, occupational status and psychological functioning predicted survival. In general, long-lived individuals in present cohorts of the Fourth Age compared with those in the Third Age have lower education, lower occupational status at retirement, poorer health status, and lower levels of psychological functioning. Future studies should address the effects of various dimensions of life experience in different phases of the life course to determine the paths through which experience influences individual differences in the rate of aging and age at death in old ag