Aging in flux: How changing behaviors and lifestyles in the new cohorts are reshaping old age

PI: Neda Agahi

Old age is changing – both the timing of when one is considered to enter “old age” and what the lives of people in “old age” contain. Yet we know little about how these changes in life courses and behaviors come about. What has become apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic is how little is known about the older population and its heterogeneity, which hampers the possibility of addressing the “70+” group in a nuanced way.

This project will generate new knowledge about the behaviors, lifestyles, and inequalities among today’s oldest old (80+) in Sweden, and the trajectories of various behaviors that lead up to the oldest ages. The overarching question is, do today’s older adults age differently with regard to trajectories of behaviors and lifestyles compared to previous birth cohorts of older people? Focus will be on changes in social and leisure activities, physical activity and diet, and alcohol consumption. Gender and socioeconomic inequalities, as well as their interplay, are central throughout the project.

We will follow and compare separate birth cohorts – people born in the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s and 1940s – from pre-retirement to advanced old age, to examine their trajectories of aging. We will use nationally representative longitudinal data (LNU and SWEOLD) covering a period of over 50 years. The project will increase our knowledge of the “new old” and the processes involved in shaping old age behaviors and lifestyles in the new cohorts of older people. Understanding the dynamic nature of aging and behavioral trajectories is important for societal planning and development in order to create age-friendly societies.

This project is funded by the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life, and Welfare (Forte).