Life satisfaction in old age and activity theory: should the debate be re-opened?

  • C.W.I. Gillespie Department of Psychiatry, University of Cape Town, Medical School. Observatory
  • J. Louw Department of Psychology, University of Cape Town

Abstract

Since the formulation of the activity theory of ageing by Havighurst and Albrecht in 1953. the theory has been subject to intense scrutiny. Although subsequently challenged by the disengagement theory advanced by Cumming and Henry in 1961, it is now widely held that activity, particularly social activity, contributes to increased life satisfaction in the elderly. A literature review however suggests only limited support for activity theory. Meanwhile, the increased proportion of aged people in the population over the past forty years has made the significance of activity theory for the wellbeing and care of the aged increasingly important. Given the paucity of South African research on activity theory, a pilot study was conducted among 43 white South Africans between the ages of 62 and 89 years, using a modified activity scale as developed by Lee and Markides (1990), and a multidimensional life satisfaction index originally developed by Neugarten, Havighurst and Tobin (1961) and further refined by Adams (1969). The pilot study failed to provide support for activity theory, as described by the original theorists, possibly due to a small sample size. Further research in the South African context is suggested, and attention is drawn to the importance of investigating the type and quality of activity in terms of its perceived effects on life satisfaction.

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Published
1993-04-01