One’s aging experience is structurally embedded in the social aspects of the residential environment. However, it is largely unknown how this upstream contextual factor may shape self-perceptions of aging (SPA) and loneliness, critical aspects of later-life psychological well-being with profound health implications. This study examines the longitudinal association of neighborhood social cohesion with SPA and loneliness, as well as the potential bidirectional associations between outcomes.
This study used 8-year data from the Health and Retirement Study, with an analytic sample of 9,299 U.S. adults aged 50 or older. Latent growth curve models were implemented to assess the associations of baseline neighborhood social cohesion with trajectories of SPA and loneliness. Path analysis was conducted to examine the longitudinal mediation mechanisms connecting neighborhood social cohesion with SPA and loneliness.
Respondents from cohesive neighborhoods at baseline started with and maintained more positive initial SPA over time, but their positive perceptions decreased faster over time. Cohesive neighborhoods were associated with lower levels of loneliness over an 8-year study period, but also with slower rates of decline in loneliness. Path analysis revealed that neighborhood social cohesion indirectly affected SPA and loneliness, via bidirectional mechanisms.
This study demonstrates the significant role of environmental factors beyond individual predictors and advocates for the potential of neighborhood environments as a target for interventions to foster positive aging perception and tackle loneliness. Furthermore, it indicates that loneliness and SPA could reciprocally influence each other in the context of neighborhood social cohesion, enriching our understanding of their intricate dynamics.