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Jessica Kelley

The “Good Times” Cohort in Later-Life: Black-White Differences in Pathways to Functional Limitations
Jessica Kelley-Moore and Wenxuan Huang
Research on Aging, 2017


Race differences in midlife circumstances explain much of the disability gap in older adulthood, but questions remain about whether early life selection processes are race invariant. To address this, we (1) isolate the 1930s cohort to explore potential race-specific life courses and (2) utilize a two stage estimation procedure to examine the role of early-to-midlife selection in shaping later-life functional limitations. Using data on Black and White adults born 1931–1941 from the Health and Retirement Study (W2–W9), we estimate trajectories of later-life functional limitations after modeling midlife income and comorbidity as a function of early life factors. Fair/poor childhood health similarly impacts midlife morbidity for both races. Childhood disadvantage (poor family, father unemployed, and no father/deceased) had an adverse effect on midlife income for White but not for Black adults. An education gradient in functional limitations exists only for White adults. We interpret these findings in the sociohistorical context
of this birth cohort.

Intraindividual Variability in Late-Life Functionality Limitations Among White, Black, and Hispanic Older Adults: Implications for the Weathering Hypothesis
Jielu Lin and Jessica Kelley-Moore
Research on Aging, 2017


Consistent with the weathering hypothesis, many studies have captured racial/ethnic disparities in average functional health trajectories. The same mechanisms of social inequality that contribute to worse average health among minority adults may also contribute to greater fluctuations in their physical function at upper ages. Using panel data from the Health and Retirement Study, we examine patterns of intraindividual variability over time in trajectories of functional limitations for White, Black, and Hispanic older adults. Intraindividual variability increases with age for both Whites and Blacks and such increase is greater for Blacks. Hispanics have the greatest intraindividual variability but there is no age-based pattern. Socioeconomic status and comorbidity are associated with intraindividual variability for all race/ethnicity yet do not explain the age-based increase in intraindividual variability for Whites or Blacks. The findings suggest further nuances to the weathering hypothesis—social disadvantage can generate instability in physical function as minority adults age.

Do Local Social Hierarchies Matter for Mental Health? A Study of Neighborhood Social Status and Depressive Symptoms in Older Adults
Jessica Kelley-Moore,  Kathleen A. Cagney, Kimberly A. Skarupski, Susan A. Everson-Rose, and Carlos F. Mendes de Leon
The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 2015


Objectives. Despite a well-established association between relative social position and health, stratification at smaller levels of social organization has received scant attention. Neighborhood is a localized context that has increasing relevance for adults as they age, thus one’s relative position within this type of mesolevel group may have an effect on mental health, independent of absolute level of social and economic resources. We examine the relationship between an older adult’s relative rank within their neighborhoods on two criteria and depressive symptoms.

Method. Using data from the Chicago Health and Aging Project, neighborhood relative social position was ascertained for two social domains: income and social reputation (number of neighbors one knows well enough to visit). Using multilevel models, we estimated the effect of relative position within the neighborhood on depressive symptoms, net of absolute level for each domain and average neighborhood level.

Results. Higher neighborhood relative rankings on both income and visiting neighbors were associated with fewer depressive symptoms. Although both were modest in effect, the gradient in depressive symptoms was three times steeper for the relative rank of visiting neighbors than for income. Men had steeper gradients than women in both domains, but no race differences were observed.

Discussion. These findings suggest that an older adult’s relative position in a local social hierarchy is associated with his/her mental health, net of absolute position.

From Noise to Signal: The Age and Social Patterning of Intra-Individual Variability in Late-Life Health
Jielu Lin and Jessica Kelley-Moore
The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 2015

Objectives. Despite a long tradition of attending to issues of intra-individual variability in the gerontological literature, large-scale panel studies on late-life health disparities have primarily relied on average health trajectories, relegating intra-individual variability over time to random error terms, or “noise.” This article reintegrates the systematic study of intra-individual variability back into standard growth curve modeling and investigates the age and social patterning of intra-individual variability in health trajectories.

Method. Using panel data from the Health and Retirement Study, we estimate multilevel growth curves of functional limitations and cognitive impairment and examine whether intra-individual variability in these two health outcomes varies by age, gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, using level-1 residuals extracted from the adjusted growth curve models.

Results. For both outcomes, intra-individual variability increases with age. Racial/ethnic minorities and individuals with lower socioeconomic status tend to have greater intra-individual variability in health. Relying exclusively on average health trajectories may have masked important “signals” of life course health inequality.

Discussion. The findings contribute to scientific understanding of the source of heterogeneity in late-life health and highlight the need to further investigate specific life course mechanisms that generate the social patterning of intra-individual variability in health status.

Age in Place and Place in Age: Advancing the Inquiry on Neighborhoods and Minority Older Adults
Kelley-Moore, Jessica and Thorpe, Roland J.
Invited chapter in Handbook on Minority Aging, Keith Whitfield and Tamara Baker (Eds), Springer Press, 2013


Decades of research in geography and urban studies have documented race/ethnic residential patterns in neighborhoods, including segregation; shifts in race/ethnic composition; and immigrant settlement.  Simultaneously, there has been a stream of literature focused on older adults and neighborhoods, examining issues such as aging in place; age-friendly cities; and later-life migration.  We argue that much of this work has been focused, somewhat narrowly, in two important ways.  First, researchers typically examine aging as an individual process rather than age as a structural characteristic of society.  Second, neighborhoods are often categorized as either socially-meaningful enclaves or as objective environmental space without regard for the sociopolitical context of the space.  In this chapter, we argue that there needs to be more systematic consideration of age in studies of place and place in studies of age in order to advance research on minority older adults and neighborhoods.  We have two goals in the chapter.  First, we provide a framework for understanding how the further integration of work on the sociology of age and ethnic geography can provide greater context and explanatory power.  Second, we present illustrative examples that represent new frontiers of research that exist at the nexus of these streams of inquiry. 

The Social Context of Disablement among Older Adults: Does Marital Quality Matter for Loneliness?
Warner, David F. and Kelley-Moore, Jessica
Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 53(1): 50-66. 2012

Prior research has often failed to consider that disablement occurs within a web of relationship that provide psychosocial resources to and/or place demands on older adults. Drawing on the stress process and life course perspectives, we considered the social context of disablement by examining the influence of marital quality on the relationship between disability and loneliness among married older adults. Using data from the national representative National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), we found (1) functional impairment was associated with higher levels of loneliness; (2) neither positive nor negative marital quality mediated this association, contrary to the stress-deterioration hypothesis; and (3) positive (but not negative) martial quality moderated this association, consistent with the stress-buffering hypothesis. These associations were similar for women and men. These findings indicate the importance of the social context of disablement, as interpersonal resources offer protection from the deleterious psychosocial consequences of disability.

Proactive Aging: A Longitudinal Study of Stress, Resources, Agency and Well Being in Late Life
Kahana, Eva; Kelley-Moore, Jessica; Kahana, Boaz
Journal of Aging and Mental Health, 16(3-4):  438-451. 2012

Objectives: Using the Proactivity Model of Successful Aging, we examined how internal and external resources contribute to the maintenance of psychological well-being and social activities among older adults who experience normative stressors of aging. Outcome variables in this study are collectively referred to as quality of life (QOL). We also examined the mediating role of proactive adaptations between internal and external resources and QOL indicators.  Method: Based on five annual interviews of a sample of 1000 community-dwelling older adults in Florida (effective N = 561), we tested the lagged effects of stressors on two indicators of QOL, four years later. In the full longitudinal model, using structural equations, we estimated the direct effects of internal and external resources on QOL, along with indirect effects through proactive adaptations.  Results: Stressors negatively influenced QOL four years later. Internal and external resources led to better QOL four years later, both directly and indirectly through proactive adaptations of marshaling support and planning for the future.  Conclusion: These findings lend support to the Proactivity Model of Successful Aging by documenting the value of proactive adaptations (i.e., exercise, planning ahead, and marshaling support) as proximate influences on QOL outcomes (i.e., depressive symptomatology and social activities). Findings suggest that older adults can maintain successful aging even in the face of health-related and social stressors by invoking accumulated resources to deal actively with the challenges of aging.


Widening the View: Capturing ‘Unobserved’ Heterogeneity in Studies of Age and the Life Course
Kelley-Moore, Jessica and Lin, Jielu

In Handbook of Sociology of Aging, Richard Settersten and Jacqueline Angel (Eds),  New York: Springer,  2011

The significance of age as a critically important organizing tool for society, justifying allocation of resources, rights, and responsibilities—has been recognized.  At the same time, chronological age itself is a weak predictor of human development and behavior.  The increasing sophistication in study designs and an ever-growing bank of social indicators has allowed researchers to identify processes that may correlate with chronological age, the onset of chronic disease for example, but are not in fact caused by age.  In this chapter, we argue that focus on normative, or “average”, trends in age-associated phenomena should be coupled with empirical attention to patterns of variability that may also be associated with chronological age.  We illustrate how three current streams of methodological inquiry (standard statistical practice; current prospective study designs; single methodological approaches) have limited our ability to examine age-based patterns of variability, and then we present potential solutions to these limitations and note exemplary research that has already “widen the view” of social inquiry to include unobserved heterogeneity.


Disability and Aging: The Social Construction of Causality
Jessica A. Kelley-Moore
In International Handbook of Social Gerontology, Dale Dannefer and Chris Phillipson,(Eds),  Sage Publications, 2010

The discourse about aging and disability is dominated by the perspective that functional decline is a normative part of the human aging process leading inevitably and irreversibly to disability.  This chapter synthesizes research in social gerontology and disability studies to demonstrate how the socially-constructed life course influences the experience of both aging and disability.  The chapter has three sections. First, I describe the age distribution of disability in the population and address two misconceptions that frequently appear when explaining the concentration of disability at the oldest ages: a) this is due to the aggregation of organismic aging processes; and b) it is a static or fixed characteristic of the population.  The second section addresses the ambiguity in definitions of aging and disability, which have contributed to the confounding of these processes in both scientific and lay interpretations.  I use two illustrative examples: 1) epidemiologic studies of frailty in older adulthood; 2) labor force exits among middle-aged adults with chronic health problems.  The final section of the chapter explores the intersectionality of aging, life course, and disability.  Delinking the physiologic processes of aging from disability allows us to examine the social structural and environmental factors that serve to contextualize age and the life course and how those factors influence the timing, meaning, and experience of disability.

Page last modified: August 2, 2017