This qualitative study applied a resilience perspective to socioeconomic inequalities in the functioning of older adults. We aimed to gain insight into how some older adults managed to age successfully despite having a low socioeconomic position (SEP) throughout their lives.Research Design and Methods
Semistructured interviews were conducted with 11 resilient adults over the age of 79 years participating in the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Participants were defined as resilient on the basis of having a low lifetime SEP and favorable trajectories of physical, mental, and social functioning. Grounded Theory coding techniques were applied to identify themes reflecting distinct ways in which participants dealt with what they indicated were the most significant adversities in their lives. The analysis focused on experiences linked to socioeconomic conditions.Results
Six themes reflecting psychological, behavioral, and social factors were derived from the data: drawing support from social contacts; investing in younger generations; taking actions to manage or improve socioeconomic conditions; putting the impact of a low SEP into perspective; persevering; and resigning oneself to adversity.Discussion and Implications
Findings suggest that successful aging despite a low SEP throughout one’s lifetime requires considerable psychological and social resources. In addition, resignation and specific manifestations of generativity are identified as new elements of resilience. These findings may help to reduce the stereotyping of older adults with a low SEP, and nuance the heroic image of resilience as something that is primarily attributable to extraordinary individual abilities or efforts.