Reconsidering How Successful Aging is Defined

Perspectives from Community-Dwelling Aging Adults


  • Barbra Teater College of Staten Island, CUNY
  • Jill Chonody Boise State University



Successful aging, ageism, self-determination, health, well-being


Successful aging is a prominent framework within gerontology, yet an understanding of how aging adults define “successful aging” is often missing in the social work discourse around what it means to age well. This cross-sectional, exploratory study used an online survey to explore community-dwelling adults’ (aged 55+; n=471) definition of successful aging, the underlying components across all definitions, and any differences in components based on whether or not the adults identified as aging successfully. Summative content analysis yielded five main themes and 13 sub-themes for those who identified as aging successfully and five main themes and 11-sub-themes for those who identified as not aging successfully with elements of health constituting the largest percentage of responses across both groups. Bivariate analyses found participants in the “not aging successfully” group mentioned elements of Being Healthy and Financial Security more than those in the aging successfully group, and elements of Sustain Participation, Curiosity, and Learning less than those in the “aging successfully” group. The findings illustrate the extent to which aging adults view successful aging as the presence of health and ability. Social workers should be mindful to the ways in which adults view successful aging and the elements they believe to contribute to successful aging in order to provide and tailor programs, services, and resources that are supportive of aging adults’ needs and wishes.


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