Successful Aging in Individuals From Less Advantaged, Marginalized, and Stigmatized Backgrounds


  • Myriam V. Thoma
  • Shauna L. Mc Gee


Background: Health and well-being in later life are heavily influenced by behaviors across the life course, which in turn are influenced by a variety of wider contextual, social, economic, and organizational factors. There is considerable potential for inequalities in health-promoting behaviors and health outcomes, arising from poverty, social, and environmental factors. This suggests that individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds and circumstances may have more exposure to (chronic) stressors, coupled with reduced access to resources, and increased susceptibility to risk factors for ill-health and mental disorders in later life. This drastically decreases the likelihood for successful aging in individuals from less advantaged backgrounds. Nevertheless, despite these adverse circumstances, some high-risk, disadvantaged individuals have been shown to achieve and maintain good health and well-being into later life.

Method: This scientific update provides an overview of recently published research with samples that, against expectations, demonstrate successful aging.

Results: Favorable personality traits, cognitive strategies, and a high-level of intrinsic motivation, paired with a supportive social environment, have been found to build a prosperous basis for successful aging and positive health outcomes in later life for individuals living in aversive environmental circumstances.

Conclusion: For clinical psychologists, the movement towards the investigation of underlying mechanisms of successful aging from a psychological perspective, particularly in disadvantaged individuals, may be a critical step towards understanding the vast heterogeneity in aging.