2 minute read

Successful Aging


There are two main criticisms of the concept of successful aging: (1) it is a categorical concept rather than a continuum; and (2) it tends to blame those who do not measure up to high standards of aging. However, the view of successful aging as ‘‘categorical’’ fails to recognize that there are many shades of gray between the ideal of successful aging and failure (usual aging). No one can be perfectly successful on all dimensions of aging. Many people have some chronic illness or disability and still manage to function fairly well and remain involved. Many others are relatively healthy and functional despite having disengaged from most of life. Critics say that these people should be considered relatively successful, despite imperfections.

Regarding the second criticism, one must consider that many elders cannot measure up to the high standards of successful aging on some or all dimensions, through no fault of their own. There are accidents, genetic weaknesses, psychological blocks, ignorance, lack of resources, and other external factors that prevent successful aging in many elders. Critics say that they should not be blamed and made to feel guilty for their ‘‘failure.’’ Nevertheless, successful aging is such a positive and useful concept that it has enjoyed widespread acceptance among both professional gerontologists and nonspecialists.



BALTES, P., and BALTES, M., eds. Successful Aging. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

BRANDSTÄDTER, J., and GREVE, W. ‘‘The Aging Self.’’ Developmental Review 14 (1994): 52–80.

GOULD, E.; REEVES, A.; GRAZIANO, M.; and GROSS, C. ‘‘New Brain Cells.’’ Science 286 (1999): 548–552.

HAVIGHURST, R. ‘‘Successful Aging.’’ Gerontologist 1 (1961): 4–7.

KATZ, L., and RUBIN, M. Keep Your Brain Alive. New York: Workman, 1999.

LARSON, R. ‘‘Thirty Years of Research on the Subjective Well-Being of Older Americans.’’ Journal of Gerontology 33 (1978): 109–125.

LAWTON, M. ‘‘Environmental and Other Determinants of Well-Being in Older People.’’ Gerontologist 23 (1983): 349–357.

MYERS, D. The Pursuit of Happiness. New York: Avon, 1993.

NOWLIN, J. ‘‘Successful Aging.’’ In Normal Aging III: Reports from the Duke Longitudinal Studies, 1975–1984. Edited by E. Palmore. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1985.

OKUN, M.; STOCK, W.; HARING, M.; and WITTER, R. ‘‘Health and Subjective Well-Being.’’ International Journal of Aging and Human Development 19 (1984): 111–132.

PALMORE, E., ed. Normal Aging III. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1985.

PALMORE, E., and JEFFERS, F., eds. Predictors of Life Span. Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1971.

PALMORE, E., and KIVETT, V. ‘‘Change in Life Satisfaction.’’ Journal of Gerontology 32 (1977): 311–316.

ROWE, J., and KAHN, R. Successful Aging. New York: Pantheon, 1998.

WILLIAMS, R., and WIRTH, C. Lives Through the Years. New York: Atherton Press, 1965.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4Successful Aging - Definitions, Causes, Avoiding Disease And Disability, Maintaining Mental Function, Engagement With Life, Heredity