Adverse Life Events and Late-Life Health and Wellbeing: Risk and Resilience in an Aging Post-Apartheid South African Cohort

Collin Payne , Australian National University
Sumaya Mall, University of the Witwatersrand
Lindsay Kobayashi, Harvard University
Kathleen Kahn, University of the Witwatersrand
Lisa Berkman, Harvard University

We use data from the Health and Aging in Africa: a Longitudinal Study of an INDEPTH Community in South Africa (HAALSI) cohort to examine how exposure to stressful life events relates to late-life wellbeing. The HAALSI sample represents a population that lived through a period of intense political turmoil and systematic disadvantage and oppression in the form of apartheid and exposure to violent civil war. Exposure to traumatic events does not follow the clear sociodemographic patterning commonly seen in higher-income contexts—wealth, education, and early-life SES were not protective against experiencing adverse life events. Greater exposure to trauma had substantial effects on later-life health and wellbeing, with strong associations seen between adversity and late-life depression, PTSD, and functional disability. In sum, our findings suggest that the legacy of systematic disadvantage and structural violence experienced by older Black South Africans continues to reverberate in terms of late-life psychosocial and physical well-being.

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 Presented in Session 6. Health & Mortality & Aging