Hour Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Future Time Perspective and Preoccupation With Negative Events Across the Life Span

According to socioemotional selectivity theory, older adults’ emotional well-being stems from having a limited future time perspective that motivates them to maximize well-being in the “here and now.” Presumably, then, older adults’ time horizons are associated with emotional competencies that boost positive affect and dampen negative affect, but little research has addressed this. Using a U.S. adult life-span sample (N = 3,933; 18–93 years), we found that a 2-factor model of future time perspective (future opportunities; limited time) fit the data better than a 1-factor model. Through middle age, people perceived the life-span hourglass as half full—they focused more on future opportunities than limited time. Around Age 60, the balance changed to increasingly perceiving the life-span hourglass as half empty—they focused less on future opportunities and more on limited time, even after accounting for perceived health, self-reported decision-making ability, and retirement status. At all ages, women’s time horizons focused more on future opportunities compared with men’s, and men’s focused more on limited time. Focusing on future opportunities was associated with reporting less preoccupation with negative events, whereas focusing on limited time was associated with reporting more preoccupation. Older adults reported less preoccupation with negative events, and this association was stronger after controlling for their perceptions of limited time and fewer future opportunities, suggesting that other pathways may explain older adults’ reports of their ability to disengage from negative events. Insights gained and questions raised by measuring future time perspective as 2 dimensions are discussed.

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.

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