Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Anne Wilson

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This study explores the relation between different comparison orientations, use of coping strategies and well-being in later life (N = 95; M = 76 years). Past research has identified individual differences in people's preference for comparison standards: some rely on social comparisons (to other individuals or groups), others use temporal comparisons (to the self at various points in time), a variety of both comparison types, or none at all. Mixed method analysis revealed that, although older participants generally preferred temporal comparisons to social comparisons, many people reported relying heavily on both standards and a considerable number relied on neither standard. Use of coping strategies was higher for those who relied on both types of comparison standard than it was for those who did not compare or those who relied on temporal comparisons. Measures of well-being (e.g., depression, social support, physical health) were generally similar across comparison categories, although people who prefer temporal comparisons appear to have higher overall life satisfaction and self-esteem. A grounded theory approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) was used to develop an identity development model for persons in later life, with comparison use as the central means to classify between two states of identity (absolute and relative). Temporal and social comparison processes are characterized for each state and connections to comparison orientation, coping, well-being and worldview are made. Findings suggest that comparison orientation is an adaptive mechanism in later life that can help to sustain well-being during age-related decline over time. People who are flexible with their use of comparison processes appear to capitalize on the advantages of both standards and, therefore, are able to construct positive self-appraisals despite life challenge. Implications for practice with persons in later life are discussed.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season