Objectives | Theories of aging posit that older adult age is associated with less negative emotions, but few studies have examined age differences at times of novel challenges. As COVID-19 spread in the United States, this study therefore aimed to examine age differences in risk perceptions, anxiety, and depression.
Method | In March 2020, a nationally representative address-based sample of 6,666 U.S. adults assessed their perceived risk of getting COVID-19, dying if getting it, getting quarantined, losing their job (if currently working), and running out of money. They completed a mental health assessment for anxiety and depression. Demographic variables and precrisis depression diagnosis had previously been reported.
Results | In regression analyses controlling for demographic variables and survey date, older adult age was associated with perceiving larger risks of dying if getting COVID-19, but with perceiving less risk of getting COVID-19, getting quarantined, or running out of money, as well as less depression and anxiety. Findings held after additionally controlling for precrisis reports of depression diagnosis.
Discussion | With the exception of perceived infection-fatality risk, U.S. adults who were relatively older appeared to have a more optimistic outlook and better mental health during the early stages of the pandemic. Interventions may be needed to help people of all ages maintain realistic perceptions of the risks, while also managing depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 crisis. Implications for risk communication and mental health interventions are discussed.
Full study available here.
Citation: Bruine de Bruin, W. (2020). Age differences in COVID-19 risk perceptions and mental health: Evidence from a national US survey conducted in March 2020. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B.