The Effect of Disability on Subjective Well-Being across the Adult Lifespan: The Moderating Roles of Age at Disability Onset and Disability Type
The present study aimed to advance the current understanding of the relation between disability and subjective well-being by examining the extent to which different facets of subjective well-being (life satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect) change before and after disability onset, and the extent to which age and type of disability moderate such changes. Multiphase growth-curve models to prospective longitudinal survey data from Waves 1-16 of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey (N = 3,795; mean age = 50.22; age range: 16-99; 51% women). On average, life satisfaction remained relatively stable across the disability transition, whereas positive affect declined and negative affect increased the year surrounding disability onset; in the years thereafter, neither positive affect nor negative affect returned to pre-onset levels. Individuals who acquired disability in old age were more likely to report sustained declines in subjective well-being than were individuals who became disabled in midlife or young adulthood. Psychological disability was associated with the strongest declines across each indicator of subjective well-being at disability onset but also greater adaptation in the years thereafter. The findings provide further evidence against the set-point theory of hedonic adaptation and for a more moderate viewpoint that allows for processes of adaptation to vary based on the outcome examined, the type of stressor, and individual characteristics. The discussion focuses on possible mechanisms underlying the moderating roles of age and type of disability.