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11.06.2021 | Original Contributions Open Access

WWII traumatic events, subjective well-being and valuation of life in the very old

Zeitschrift für Gerontologie und Geriatrie
Daniel Hauber, Roman Kaspar, Susanne Zank



Experiencing war is a major trigger for physical and mental health problems. People in the German population who are currently over 80 years of age experienced the Second World War (WWII) as children or adolescents, at a time when psychological vulnerability is high. Empirical results show that positive subjective well-being (SWB) and valuation of life (VoL) in older cohorts are widespread; however, when confronted with existential age-associated changes, many older adults experience increased burden, sometimes bringing biographical vulnerabilities to the forefront. This study investigated SWB and VoL in the very old and examined the influence of negative WWII experiences on these outcomes.


Cross-sectional data from the “Survey on quality of life and subjective well-being of the very old in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW80+)” are presented. Multiple regression models, adjusted for gender, age, physical health, and full inpatient care, were computed to assess the impact of suffering from the effects of WWII traumatic experiences on SWB and VoL.


Over 13% spontaneously reported suffering from the effects of WWII events and an additional 29% reported negative experiences when explicitly asked about them. Multiple regression models showed elevated depression scores for participants suffering from the effects of WWII traumatic events. No association with positive affect was found. Suffering from the effects of WWII traumatic events did not influence VoL engagement with life or VoL optimism.


Many very old adults still seem to struggle with the repercussions of WWII traumatic experiences. Future studies could further examine if the missing association with positive affect and VoL is a sign of resilience.

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