Date of Award

Winter 2015

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas G Safford

Second Advisor

Benjamin C Brown

Third Advisor

Kenneth M Johnson


The proportion of the U.S. population comprised of seniors – those aged 65 and older – is projected to increase from 13% presently to 20% by 2030. With this demographic change, it is important to consider how older residents are faring, which older residents do best, and what communities are doing to support this population. Rather than examining income or wealth as a dependent variable, I predict two measures of well-being among older U.S. residents– one subjective and one objective. By linking survey data of the 50 and older population from the 2010 Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to a variety of county-level statistics from several government databases, this dissertation characterizes each respondent’s community with respect to its demographics, economic structure, natural environment, social norms, and presence of community institutions. I examine the impact of individual and community characteristics, as well as whether someone had migrated within the last four years, on predicting well-being.

My findings suggest that certain community variables may influence well-being – namely that social institutions may need to be tailored to support the needs of older residents and that counties we think of as privileged counties (with respect to the racial and socioeconomic make-up of its residents) may need to do more to serve older residents. In sum though, these county characteristics have a very minimal impact in predicting the well-being of older residents. The predictors that seemed to matter more were those of the individuals aged 50 and over themselves: their demographic characteristics, employment status, health, and social connectedness all mattered with respect to understanding which individuals were doing well. Whether someone had moved to a new county in the last four years did not appear to offer value to predicting well-being in a causal manner.