Companion Animals, Social Engagement, and Psychological Well-Being in Mid and Later Adulthood | HABRI

Companion Animals, Social Engagement, and Psychological Well-Being in Mid and Later Adulthood

Principal Investigator

Rebecca A. Johnson (University of Missouri)

Full Text

Rationale

As the number of individuals in mid- (55-64) and later- (65+) adulthood increase, it is vital to understand mechanisms by which social engagement can be facilitated because of its strong link to well-being, which has been associated with health. The aim of the proposed study is to examine the relationship between companion animal (CA) ownership and CA bonding on social engagement and psychological well-being, as well as the relationship between social engagement and psychological well-being across two age cohorts.

Objective

The primary objective of this study is to examine the contribution of CA ownership to social engagement (social contacts, organizational participation), and psychological well-being (depression, life satisfaction) of adults. The secondary objective is to examine the degree of bonding with a companion animal as a moderator of the relationship between social engagement and psychological well-being.

Hypothesis

People who have a dog or cat will be less socially isolated, have lower depression, and higher life satisfaction compared to non-pet owners.

Results

This study analyzed data from 1,367 respondents of the 2012 wave of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) using bivariate statistics and multivariate regression models. The study found evidence for differences in rates of pet ownership by race, ethnicity, age, number living in household, and whether someone was living with a spouse or partner, but not by gender, education, income, wealth, or health. Specifically:

  • The rates of pet ownership declined as age cohort increased, from 58.1 percent for the young-old cohort to 25 percent for the oldest-old cohort.
  • Each additional person living in the household increased the likelihood of having a pet by 29 percent.

Contrary to the hypothesis, the bond with a pet did not differ between age groups; all cohorts reported a strong bond. Companionship was the most common reason for owning a pet across the three age cohorts, while concern about the resources (e.g., time and work) required of pet ownership was the most common reason for not living with a pet.

The life course perspective provides a useful framework to gain a deeper understanding of pet ownership and the human–animal bond throughout people’s lives.

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