General well-being is known to deteriorate sharply at the end of life. However, it is an open question how rates of terminal change differ across affective and evaluative facets of well-being and if individual difference correlates operate in facet-specific ways. We examined how discrete affective states (happy, angry, fearful, sad) and satisfaction with key life domains (health, leisure, family) change as people approach death and how differences in end-of-life trajectories are related to sociodemographic (age, gender, education), physical health (disability, body mass index, physician visits), and psychosocial characteristics (perceived control, social orientation, living with a partner). We applied growth models to 9-year annual longitudinal data of 864 participants (age at death: M = 75 years, 41% women) from the nationwide German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). Findings revealed commonalities and specificities in terminal change: Six of seven facets became increasingly fragile late in life (6 to 35 times steeper terminal change than age change), but at vastly different rates of change (e.g., steep declines in happiness and satisfaction with health vs. stability in anger) and at different levels at which changes occurred. Commonalities and differences also emerged for the correlates: Those who perceived more control over their lives experienced generally more favorable late-life affect and satisfaction trajectories, whereas other correlates operated in more facet-specific ways. For example, participants living with a partner were happier and more satisfied with family life throughout their last years, but also reported more fear and steeper increases in sadness, a picture of bittersweet emotions at the end of life.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Life-span and Life-course Studies