The Shifting Signification of Self-Rated Health

Jason Schnittker, University of Pennsylvania

Self-rated health is one of the most pervasive measures of health in the social sciences, but scientists know little about the psychological processes behind it. The present study tests four theories of self-rated health using a large, nationally-representative, and longitudinal data set. The changing association between "objective" measures of health and self-rated health is examined. Three objective measures show three distinct age-patterns: Consistent with social comparison, the correspondence between functional limitations and self-rate health is exceptionally strong, but decreases precipitously after middle-age. Similarly, the correspondence between chronic conditions and self-rated health generally declines with age, although not all the declines are equally steep. The most pronounced finding, however, is entirely inconsistent with social comparison: the correspondence between depressive symptoms and self-rated health increases substantially and monotonically with age. This shift has several important implications and the results are discussed in light of demographic studies that employ self-rated health.

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Presented in Session 104: Health and the Life Course