The impact of racial identity status on marital satisfaction in older African American couples


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The impact of racial identity status on marital satisfaction in older African American couples
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xiii, 129 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Wilson, Jennifer
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Counselor Education thesis, Ph.D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Counselor Education -- UF   ( lcsh )
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non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 1998.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 118-128).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Jennifer Wilson.
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University of Florida
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Copyright 1998


Jennifer Wilson

For my parents,
This is as much your achievement as mine.


This dissertation would not have been completed without the support and

assistance from many individuals. I would first like to express my appreciation to the

chairperson of my doctoral committee, Dr. Max Parker. His encouragement and support

enabled me to undertake this seemingly impossible research project. Dr. Parker's

confidence in my ability to complete the project and his assistance with recruiting

participants also facilitated the completion of this work.

I would also like to thank the members of my committee for their participation in

my doctoral research. Dr. Dave Miller is owed much gratitude for patiently guiding me

through the methodological and analytic components of this project. This project could

not have been completed without his help. I also wish to express my appreciation to Dr.

Otto von Mering, Dr. Ellen Amatea, and Dr. Mary Howard-Hamilton for their many

contributions to this project. Their feedback, advice, and support were integral

components to completing this task.

Special thanks are offered to both the couples who participated in this study as

well as to the people who assisted in enlisting their help. Mrs. Jeralene Gainey, Ms.

Gayle Smith, Mrs. Gloria Watson, Mrs. Brenda Bloch, Reverend Willie Mayberry,

Reverend Geraldine McClelland, Dr. Eddie Hudson, Ms. Ernestine Williams, Mr. and

Mrs. Jimmy and Kathy Albritton, Ms. Irma Phillips-Maxwell, Ms. Vonceil Levine. Ms.

Melinda Gablehouse, Ms. Nelle Stephan-Lutz, Ms. Michelle Banfield, and Ms. Gladys

Glenn were very generous with their time, patience, and good wishes. This project could

not have been completed without their help.

I would also like to thank the Severy family for their generosity in sharing their

home with me as I struggled through the final stages of the dissertation process.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank and honor my friends and

family who have labored through this process along with me. I would especially like to

offer thanks to Diane, Jackie, and John O'Keefe for their steadfastness and unwavering

belief in the viability of this undertaking. They have played important roles in ways that

I cannot begin to chronicle here. I would also like to extend special thanks to Lisa, Kelly,

and Sherry. Their constant support, good humor, and faith in my ability to fight the good

fight made all the difference. Many thanks also go to Lynne, Martha, Herb, and Andres

and the folks at GFI for the votes of confidence. I would also like to offer Dave a

thousand thanks for his calming influence and support over the past three years. His

friendship is one of the benefits I have reaped from this process. All of these people, my

dear friends, were vital to my completion of this behemoth. I thank each one of them

from the bottom of my heart.

To my family--the Wilsons, Biers, Jarockis, and Hamiltons--thanks go to each of

them for unconditional support and love over the past years. It has always been

comforting to know that I had so many people pulling for me. Thanks go to Jeff and Fran

and my nieces, Krissy, Jackie, and Danielle--and my "Uncle Mike" Bier--their inquiries

and enthusiasm meant a lot. I also want to especially acknowledge my grandparents,

Edna Bier and Everett and Evelyn Wilson, for their faith in my abilities. Each of them has

taught me much about the importance of family and connections. I hope to make them


Finally, 1 would like to acknowledge and thank my Mom and Dad. There really

are no words to describe their impact upon my life. Their contributions to my many

successes in life are innumerable. Their love, support, and enthusiasm have been there for

me in abundance from the very beginning and they have been boundless. I am truly

fortunate for their involvement in this project and in my life.



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ............................................... iv

LIST OF TABLES .............. ........................................ x

ABSTRACT ...................................................... xii


1 INTRODUCTION ................................. .............. 1

Background ...................................................... 2
Statement of the Problem ................ ....................... 10
Purpose of the Study ................................ ............ 10
Need for the Study ............................................... 11
Theoretical Framework ................ ......................... 13
Research Questions ............................................... 18
Definition of Terms ............................................... 19
Organization of the Dissertation ................ .................. 21

2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE .............................. 23

The African American Marital and Family Experience .................... 24
Marital Satisfaction Literature .................................. 26
Marital Satisfaction of Older Adults ............................ 26
Marital Satisfaction in African American Families ................. 35
Summary of Marital Satisfaction Literature ...................... 40
Theoretical Underpinnings ..................................... 42
Life Cycle Theory ......................................... 42
Life Course Perspective ................................... 43
Racial Identity Development ................................. 46
Summary of Theoretical Perspectives ........................... 59
Sunnary of Literature Review .................................. 60

3 METHODOLOGY .............................................. 62

Delineation of Relevant Variables ................................ 62
Dependent Variables .......................... ............ 62
Independent Variables ................ ................... 63
Research Hypotheses ................ .......................... 63
Research Design ............... .................... ........... 64
Population ........................................ ............. 64
Sampling and Sampling Procedures ................................ 65
Instrumentation ..................................... .......... 67
Marital Satisfaction Questionnaire for Older Persons .............. 67
Black Racial Identity Attitude Scale (Form RIAS-B) ............... 68
Personal Data Sheet ...................................... 69
Data Collection and Data Analyses .................................. 69
Limitations of Aging Research .................................. 69

4 RESULTS ...................................................... 72

Descriptive Information of the Participants ............................ 72
Correlation Analysis ................... ........... ................ 81
Statistical Results of the Research Hypotheses ......................... 83
Hypotheses 1, 2, 3, and 4 .................................. 83
Hypotheses 5, 6, and 7 ................. ................... 85
Hypotheses 8 and 9 ................. .................... 87
Summary of Research Findings ................ ................... 88

5 DISCUSSION .................................... .......... 90

Discussion of the Descriptive Information ............................. 91
Discussion of the Relationship Among Variables ........................ 96
Limitations of this Study .......................................... 97
Implications of the Findings and Further Recommendations ............... 98
Implications for Theory ................................. 99
Implications for Clinical Practice ............................. 100
Implications for Counselor Education and Training ............... 102
Implications for Future Research ........................... 103
Summary ......................................... ........... 105


A COVER LETTER ......... ....................... ............ 107

B PERSONAL DATA SHEET ................. ................... 108

QUESTIONNAIRE ................ ........................ 109


REFERENCES ....................................................... 118

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................ ......................... 129


Table Page

1 Summary of Relationship Types Based Upon Participants' Racial
Identity Status ..................................... ............ 54

2 Demographic Information for the Sample by Age and Length of Marriage .... 73

3 Participants' Educational Level ................ ................... 74

4 Participants' Income Status ..................................... 76

5 Participants' Scores on the Marital Satisfaction Questionnaire for Older
Persons ................................. ..... ............. 77

6 Participants' Scores on the Black Racial Identity Attitude Scale
(Form RIAS-B) .................................... .......... 78

7 Pearson Product-Moment Correlations Between Independent and Dependent
Variables Reporting only Significant Correlates ......................... 81

8 Multiple Regression of Marital Status by Racial Identity Level, Age, Length
of Marriage, and Income ........................................ 84

9 Multiple Regression of Preencounter Subscale by Age, Length of Marriage,
and Income ................ ................................ 85

10 Multiple Regression of Encounter Subscale by Age, Length of Marriage,
and Income ................... ............................... 86

11 Multiple Regression of Immersion/Emersion Subscale by Age, Length of
Marriage and Income ......................................... 86

12 Multiple Regression of Internalization Subscale by Age, Length of Marriage
and Income ..................................................... 87

13 Dependent t-tests of Mean Differences Between Marital Satisfaction and
Racial Identity and Gender .................................... 88

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Jennifer Wilson

May 1998

Chairperson: W. Max Parker
Major Department: Counselor Education

The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of racial identity attitudes

upon levels of marital satisfaction in a population of older African American couples.

The effect of the independent variables of age, length of marriage, and income level upon

both racial identity attitudes and marital satisfaction were also investigated. This study

was intended to increase knowledge about aging in the African American population as

there is a dearth of empirical investigation on this topic.

Forty-six married Black couples over the age of 55 participated in the study.

They completed assessment measures on marital satisfaction and racial identity

development. The independent variables were selected based upon extant literature that

posited these factors had significant impact on previously studied populations of older


To investigate the relationships among the independent and dependent variables, a

series of multiple regression analyses, dependent t-tests, and product-moment

correlations were utilized. Results of the analyses showed that, of the four measurable

stages of racial identity development, only Preencounter attitudes of racial identity

significantly affected marital satisfaction in a negative manner. The couples did not differ

significantly, either by gender or within-couple, on any other measure. Similarly, the only

strong correlation existed between higher couple scores on the Preencounter subscale of

racial identity attitude measure and lower reported scores of marital satisfaction for these

couples. Some moderate negative correlations existed between participants' scores on the

Encounter subscale of racial identity and marital satisfaction as well as between the

participants' age and income level.

Additionally, meanings and limitations of the study results were discussed as were

the study's implications for theory, clinical practice, counselor education and training, and

future research.


Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made;
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all!
Be not afraid!
(Robert Browning, 1980/1864)

This familiar poem is one that often heralds the beginnings of new marriages and

carries with it the connotations of undying passion, lasting love, and opportunity. One

would wonder how racial group membership affects the maintenance of a satisfactory

marriage in later life. For people of color, the realities of institutionalized racism,

underemployment, and discrimination often serve to make life passages more challenging

or difficult. Arna Bontemps (1973/1933) correctly portrayed another view of aging in

later life when he described the older African American couple, Jeff and Jennie Patton, in

her short story, "A Summer Tragedy."

Jeff thought of the handicaps, the near impossibility, of making another
crop with his leg bothering him more and more each week. Then there was
always the chance that he would have another stroke, like the one that had
made him lame. Another one might kill him. The least it could do would
be to leave him helpless. Jeff gasped ... Lord, Jesus! He could not bear
to think of being helpless, like a baby, on Jennie's hands. Frail, blind.
Jennie. (p. 145)

For this couple, the "best was not yet to be" as their many years of dedication to one

another and their enduring daily toil culminated in a suicide pact that transported them

away from the struggles of life on earth.

However, despite the inevitable hardships that confront people of African descent

in their daily lives, the satisfaction of an intimate relationship may be an important source

of support. An aging couple may offer each other love and succor from the hardships of

aging in a racist society. Alice Walker's (1968) poem, "Medicine," describes the devotion

between an older Black couple. The narrator's grandmother shares a bed with her ill

grandfather so that she may attend to his pain during the night. The narrator realizes that

the healing power is their closeness when she says, "The medicine is all in her long

unbraided hair" (p. 88). Henry Dumas' (1989) poetic work, "Grandma's Got a Wig,"

beautifully illustrates the continued sense of love, fun, and attraction between an older

Black couple.

These literary works exemplify the heterogeneous nature of the aging process, and

the varied experiences of the African American protagonists also remind the reader of the

great diversity that is found within the Black population (Black, 1996). The pleasure and

pain that accompany aging have been the focus of poets, writers, and artists for centuries.

Social scientists have only recently focused their attentions upon these vital subjects.


While poets and writers have long utilized the subject of aging and intimate

relationships as fodder for their respective crafts, the closer examination of marriage in

older age, and even oldei age itself, has been relatively ignored by the counseling

profession until recent years (Brody & Semel, 1993). While counseling researchers and

practitioners have striven for a multicultural focus during the past few decades, they have

neglected to combine the areas of gerontology, marriage, and racial group membership.

This has resulted in a paucity of information regarding both the marital relationships and

the racial identity of older African Americans.

It may be helpful to focus first upon the changing demographic picture of the

United States. As the recognition of the flourishing numbers of older adults in Western

society has increased, the bandying about of such phrases as the greyingg of America"

have become commonplace. However, the real impact of this phenomenon is beginning to

be noted as the end of the millennium draws near. The demographic shifting of American

society provides data that clearly point to the necessity of addressing the needs of older

minority group adults in counseling theory, research and practice.

Currently, 32.8 million people are 65 years of age or older. This number

represents 12.7% of the United States' population (Butler, Lewis, & Sunderland, 1991;

Wolinsky, 1990). This represents a national increase of 5% since 1990 (Fowles, 1994).

The current statistics regarding the aging population can be termed "slow growth" when

compared with the projected figures for the 21st century. With the advent of the aging

"Baby Boomers," the numbers of older adults are expected to increase rapidly between

the years 2020 and 2030. By the year 2030, there are expected to be approximately 70

million adults representing 20% of the national population (Fowles, 1994; McManus,


As the general population of Americans continues its rapid change in age

structure, so, too, does the shifting demographic picture of older ethnic groups. Persons

of color represent approximately 13% of the older population. This number is predicted

to increase by the year 2025 to comprise 25% of the 65+ population (AARP Minority

Affairs Information, 1996). The older ethnic minority population is increasing faster

than the group of older non-Hispanic Whites, and, in fact, "between 1990 and 2030, the

White non-Hispanic population that is 65+ is projected to increase by 93% as compared

with 328% for older minorities (Fowles, 1994, p. 2).

A further breakdown of population statistics indicates that older Black adults

constitute "the fastest growing segment of the Black population" (AARP, 1996, p. 2).

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (1996), the total Black

population grew by 13% between 1980 and 1990, but Black individuals who were aged

65 and older increased their numbers by 20%. Currently, older adults represent 8% of the

Black population in the United States. These statistics provide clear evidence that

supports the need to increase awareness regarding the needs of older African Americans

and their families.

The state of advanced medical technology and health awareness has greatly

impacted human longevity for people of all races. It is now possible to study the

marriages of older adults. In the past, the death of a spouse often precluded the

experience of marriage in later life (Askham, 1994; Melton, Hersen, Van Sickle, & Van

Hasselt, 1995; Troll, 1986). It has been reported that one-third of all older adults in the

United States are married (Johnston, 1990; Long & Mancini, 1990). The U.S. Bureau of

the Census (1994) reported that in 1993, 56.5% of the African American men who were

65 years old and older were married, and 26.4% of the African American women 65 years

old and older were married.

There are proportionally fewer married older Black couples in the United States

population. The numbers of aged African Americans who are divorced or widowed are

also higher than those in White populations. Stanford, Peddecord, and Lockery (1990)

reported that "lower percentages of Blacks are married among the young-old (65-74) and

the old-old (75+) when compared to Whites" (p. 232). However, this may be due to

shorter life spans for members of ethnic minorities as well as high levels of environmental

stress (e.g., poverty, racism) for people of color in the United States. Therefore,

assumptions must not be made about the reasons for the differences in marital status

statistics. In fact, the literature indicates that the institution of marriage is important for

older Black couples (Boyd-Franklin, 1989; Coke & Twaite, 1995).

The impact of marital relationships on the well-being of older adults has been

examined primarily in the sociological literature. Although there are some gender

differences, research findings seem to indicate that marriage has a favorable impact upon

the life satisfaction and self-assessed happiness of older adults (Askham, 1994; Lauer,

Lauer, & Kerr, 1990). These authors purported that there exists a strong relationship

between long-term marriage and the physical and mental health of the spouses.

Although there is some discrepancy among researchers as to the changing nature of

the divorce rate for older couples (Brubaker, 1990; Melton et al., 1995; Thorson, 1995:

Weishaus & Field, 1988), it is clear that the rates of divorce are less for older adults than

for other age groups. Divorce is more likely to occur before couples grow old together,

and Butler et al. (1991) maintained that older couples perceive threats from outside the

marital union as being more significant than those generated within the dyad. "It might be

said that marriage becomes a more valued human relationship by the very fact of powerful

outside forces and eventual death. When so many other losses are occurring naturally,

marriage may be one of the more familiar and comfortable patterns remaining" (Butler et

al., 1991, p. 50).

A closer look at marriage yields the significance of this type of bond for older

adults. Facing later life can become primarily a couple task in this society, particularly

for those partners who have "launched" all of their children or for those who are

geographically distant from their offspring. It has been suggested that for couples who

are able to sustain marriages into their later years, the significance of their union becomes

greater as they experience some of the losses associated with aging. The marital dyad "is

often the sole group to which elderly individuals belong ... role and membership give

support, define behavior and bolster morale" (Wolinsky, 1990, p. 48).

The increase in the numbers of older African Americans, as well as the prevalence

of the marital relationships, has great implications for the state of research in the social

sciences. Older Black adults and their relationships have been the topic of much

speculation but little empirical research (Engram & Lockery, 1993).

The intimate relationships of African Americans must be examined within the

context of their experiences in the United States. Extant research has often portrayed a

distorted image of the marital and family relationships of Black Americans (Akbar.


1991). The lack of awareness regarding the impact of societal oppression has contributed

to the perpetuation of these myths. The constant comparison to White research groups

also dilutes the significance of research findings regarding African American people

(Akbar, 1991; Obudho, 1983).

Azibo (1992) made the critical point that "Whites or Europeans are no longer the

standard by which the psychology of people is judged" (p. 19). The experiences of

African American older adults are important and need to be recognized as having had

different influences than those of White Euro-Americans. Stanford (1990) succinctly

stated, "Collectively, Black older persons should be viewed from the perspective of their

own history, without having to suffer the indignity of being compared with those older

persons who have, for the most part, had entirely different social, political, and economic

experiences" (p. 41). Helms (1994) concurred with this notion and posited that the issue

of race is often neglected or trivialized in social science research.

The experience of Black Americans must be studied from a perspective that takes

into consideration the unique aspects of their history and culture. Despite the great

diversity among people of African heritage, there are some shared characteristics that

must be examined in the social science literature. Authors place great emphasis on the

fact that the impact of slavery, institutionalized racism, and generations of discrimination

have had lasting effects on today's African American population (Boyd-Franklin, 1989;

Hines & Boyd-Franklin. 1996). The impact of the legacy of Africa with its particular

culture and customs must also be considered (Black, 1996). In particular, the current

cohort of older Black adults has endured much cultural imposition by the dominant White

group (Coke & Twaite, 1995). Therefore, it becomes increasingly important for

researchers to target the life experiences and the survival mechanisms of this group to

provide a new base from which to promote change and support.

As clinicians and researchers become increasingly aware of the significance and

prevalence of the growing populations of non-White, married, older adults, they will need

to be apprised of the similarities and differences between groups in order to effectively

provide mental health services. The cultural context of older adults must be addressed

when looking at marital satisfaction. It will be important to consider the impact of race,

social class, socioeconomic status, and cultural values in relation to marriage.

Marital satisfaction has been widely regarded in both psychological and

sociological realms as a helpful tool for assessing different aspects of the dyadic

relationship. Marital satisfaction seems to have a curvilinear pattern over the life course

(Herman, 1994; Orbuch, House, Mero, & Webster, 1996). Initially, many couples

experience high levels of satisfaction that dip during the middle years of their union with

an increase noted in later life. Gender has also been found to have an impact upon marital

satisfaction. Men usually report higher marital satisfaction than women (Askham, 1994;

Dickson, 1995; Troll, 1986). Gender differences have also been found in older couples

regarding the interface between marital satisfaction and marital support (Acitelli &

Antonucci, 1994). There also appear to be some correlations between satisfaction and

higher levels of health and financial status (Herman, 1994; Lauer, Lauer, & Kerr, 1990).

However, this measure has been primarily studied within populations of White,

middle-class Americans. To date, little data have been generated that explore the nature of

the aging marriage and its relationship to ethnic group membership. There has been little

melding of more contextual issues such as age, race, and gender with marital satisfaction.

As a result, the marital experiences of older African-American couples have been

relatively ignored. It is critical to gain a better understanding of the experiences of this

ever-expanding population in American society in order to provide appropriate services

and interventions. More questions need to be asked about the impact of race on long-

term marriages for African American couples.

Racial identity has been a focus of study since the Black liberation movement in

the 1960s. It refers to "a sense of group or collective identity based on one's perception

that he or she shares a common racial heritage with a particular racial group" (Helms,

1993, p. 3). While sociologists consider the issue of race to be not a biological reality but,

instead, a socially constructed one (Feagin & Feagin, 1996; Helms, 1994), there is no

denying the struggle of being African American in this society.

Research in this area has focused primarily upon the impact of racial identity

development on the counseling relationship within samples of college students (Helms,

1984, 1993; Sue & Sue, 1990). Parham (1989a, 1989b) noted the need for the theory to

be tested within other age segmens of the Black population to ascertain whether or not

identity development is important for relationships outside the therapeutic interaction.

Helms (1993) also called for further exploration regarding the impact of race on social


Statement of the Problem

The numbers of older African Americans are increasing steadily, and for many

older Black people the aging process is a stressful one that can be fraught with physical

and social disadvantages. Counseling researchers, however, have not yet made this

population a focus of much empirical study. The literature also indicates that the marital

relationship is an important one for African American people (Boyd-Franklin, 1989:

Coke & Twaite, 1995). To date, however, there is little extant literature regarding this

subject. The continuing neglect of older African Americans is no longer acceptable in

either academic, policy, or interpersonal realms.

Many questions need to be asked and answered in relation to the older Black

person's adaptation to aging. Marital satisfaction and racial identity have been examined

separately in relation to younger populations, yet levels of marital satisfaction are

unknown in older African American couples as are racial identity development attitudes.

The effects of such independent variables as age, length of marriage, educational level, and

income level are also unknown in relation to older African American couples. It is

currently not known how these variables interact with one another to impact the older

Black adult's experience of the aging process. The potentiality of the marital dyad as a

mediating factor is also of interest for the present study.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of racial identity attitudes

upon levels of marital satisfaction in a population of older African American couples.

The experiences of marriage and racial identity development have not been viewed from

the perspective of older persons of color. This research will help to increase knowledge

about the intimate connections that sustain older Black couples in later years. This

information will facilitate helping professionals with a better understanding of the life

context of the older African American couple in order to appropriately provide any

mental health services.

Need for the Study

Statistically, the numbers of older people, especially the non-White population,

are increasing exponentially. Many older people are married, and they are from a

generation that values this type of bond. In fact, the "basic unit of family life for many

older persons is the marital dyad" (Johnston, 1990, p. 348). Although the current high

divorce rate will have an impact on how many long married couples exist in the future,

increased rates of longevity will still make possible many long-term marital unions. The

current generation of older-old and young-old married people have much to teach future

generations of couples, clinicians, and researchers.

There also exists a dearth of research regarding the marital experiences of older

African American people. As the counseling profession seeks to become more aware of

the varied voices of older adults, a closer look is needed at how older Black adults

perceive their marriages and the factors that have shaped these perceptions. It is obvious

that the life experiences of people of color will be different from those of White adults,

even within the same cohort. The impact of historically sanctioned racism and the

current, albeit covert, types of oppression must be considered when attempting to

evaluate marital satisfaction. How does being the experience of being Black impact one's

satisfaction of his or her marriage? Does marriage become more or less important, or

satisfactory, to a couple with differing racial identity attitudes?

The changing demographic picture of the nation's older adults and the heretofore

unacknowledged experience of African Americans in long-term marriage clearly points to

the need for the present study. The way in which older couples experience their relative

contentedness, or satisfaction, with their marriages may be a result of their age, income,

and racial identity attitudes. Level of marital satisfaction, therefore, may be the result of

various life cycle factors for husbands and wives. For example, it might be presumed that

older Black couples' marital satisfaction could be affected by their respective racial

identity attitudes as well as their social or environmental context.

The knowledge gleaned from this study also has implications for clinical practice.

Counselors who are more familiar with the similarities and differences in older

populations as well as ethnic or minority populations will be at an advantage in the

therapeutic relationship. Clients would benefit from engaging in a therapeutic relationship

with professionals who have an awareness of the potential impact of race, age, and gender

upon their marriages. As therapists continue to raise their awareness about the diversity

of the people who present for therapy services, it is critical to become learned about the

perspectives and experiences of all people, not just those of the dominant culture.

Counselor training in gerontological issues is currently quite limited (Myers,

Loesch, & Sweeney 1991). Few counselor preparation programs offer coursework or

practical clinical experience in the area of gerontology. Sue and Sue (1990) also described

the need for further cross-cultural training in counselor education curricula. The present

study has implications for further research in this area.

Theoretical Framework

Historically, counseling research has operated from a dominant culture framework

when conceptualizing the nature of marriage and the family. Increasing awareness of the

ethnic and racial differences between families has promoted the use of theories that

incorporate and honor these differences. In this study, the family life cycle theory, the

life course perspective, and racial identity development theory offer complementary

lenses through which to view the African American family in later life. The first two

theories recognize the importance of family development over time as well as the dynamic

processes of interpersonal interaction. Racial identity development theory recognizes and

supports the idea of an evolving racial consciousness for individuals and its impact upon

many aspects of their lives.

The family life cycle as pioneered by Carter and McGoldrick (1989), Duvall

(1977), and Glick (1977) highlights familial changes and endeavors to explain this system

in terms of a process that is in constant flux. The family is predicted to experience

sequential stages, or phases, that incorporate certain developmental transitions or tasks.

The negotiation of these tasks is considered to be essential for family adjustment and

progression toward the next stage. The later life family is faced with the negotiations of

retirement transitions, grandparenthood, and confrontation with death and loss. Marital

satisfaction in older age may take on increasing importance as people begin to deal with

these economic, existential, and familial issues.

Life cycle theory originally focused on familial stages that mirrored patterns of

middle-class, White, nuclear families. Until recently, diversity of life cycle patterns was

not often considered. Modifications of the original paradigms to better incorporate

marriage and family diversity have made this theoretical framework more applicable to the

research of older African American families. The work of Hines (1989) in delineating the

family life cycle of impoverished Black families provided a source of differentiation from

the White, middle-class, nuclear family system favored by previous theorists. The logical

implication of this aspect of the family life cycle is that Black families are different than

White families, no matter what their income level. The Black experience in America has

functioned to shape a somewhat different family life cycle path for many African

American families. These differences may be regarded as a source of strength and as a

symbol of fortitude in the face of the institutionalized racism in the United States instead

of as pathological or deviant (Schwartz & Scott, 1994).

Similarly, the life course perspective may also be used to study minority

marriages and families. The theoretical framework embraced by the life course

perspective is rooted in sociology, psychology, and gerontological study which results in

a perspective that is both interdisciplinary and contextual (Dilworth-Anderson, Burton,

& Johnson, 1993). The life course perspective enables researchers and clinicians to view

the older Black family through a lens that incorporates their historical experience in the

United States as well as their intragroup heterogeneity. This theory, "as applied to

families, suggests the interlocking forces of individual, familial-generational, and social-

historical structures and processes" (Bengston & Allen, 1993, p. 493).

Life course theory seeks to incorporate the nature of the individual and his or her

changing family within a larger sociohistorical context. The multidisciplinary perspective

of life course theory results in a position that goes beyond the biologically determined life

span to incorporate family and social structure with societal history. Therefore, this

position seeks to understand the African American family within its own sociohistorical

context instead of directly comparing it to the White marriage and family experience.

Racial identity theory was originated in an attempt to "explain reactions to a

social environment anomaly, that is, how many Black people were able to develop

healthy racial identities though surrounded by a racist environment" (Helms, 1993, p. 83)

The concept of a dynamic theory to explain the unfolding of a person's Black racial

consciousness has been investigated by a number of authors (Atkinson, Morten, & Sue.

1989; Cross, 1971; Helms, 1984, 1993, 1995; Parham, 1989a). Racial identity theory

examines the psychological impact of one's racial group membership on individual self-

perception and group interactions (Helms, 1993).

The early theorists, working independently of one another, offered a number of

variations on the same theme of an evolving Black consciousness (Atkinson, Morten, &

Sue, 1989; Helms, 1993). The original research focused upon both typologies and stage-

wise theories that have subsequently been expanded upon to provide a more dynamic and

inclusive theory of racial identity development (Cross, 1995; Helms, 1995). William E.

Cross' five-stage model of "Nigrescence" has been one of the primary models that has

undergone a great deal of empirical research and theoretical restructuring since the early

1970s. Helms (1995) and Parham (1989a, 1989b) have also expanded upon the theory in

an attempt to increase its relevance, validity, and salience to current sociohistorical


The basic tenets of the theory address the inherent racist nature of U.S. society

and the ensuing impact of race on individual and group identity. Identity is defined as the

conglomeration of attitudinal, affective, behavioral, and cognitive components toward self,

own racial group, and other racial groups (Sue & Sue, 1990). The theory maintains that

many African American people experience some cycling through the different stages, or

statuses, over the course of their lifetime. There is purported to be movement from a

status of low salience for racial identity, to an encounter event that impacts upon a

person's sense of self as a person of color, to fully embracing one's race, and then to a

more holistic understanding and appreciation for all races (Cross, 1995; Helms, 1993:

Parham, 1989a, 1989b).

Helms (1995) has endeavored to refine the theory to incorporate the more

inclusive notion of "statuses" instead of stages. This shift in language suggests a more

permeable and recursive (Parham, 1989a, 1989b), as opposed to linear, model. Helms

(1993, 1995) and Parham (1989) have been among the leading researchers in this area and

expounded upon Cross' 1971 model of Black racial identity development and studied

counselor-client dyadic interactions in terms of race. Helms (1993) has also proffered a

framework for extrapolating her empirical research regarding interactions of counseling

dyads to other social relationships such as marriage. For example, if younger pairs of

Black people are predicted to have particular types of social interactions based upon their

racial identity attitudes, there is currently no evidence that would indicate that older

adults would not have similar interactions.

These theoretical stances undergird this research project in terms of providing

explanatory power to the idea of marital satisfaction in older age. According to life cycle

theory, the African American family in later life will experience a number of different

transitions that would have a potential impact upon marital satisfaction. Retirement

often brings about a decrease in income which is predicted to affect the couples'

relationship as is increasing older age. Grandparenthood and the involvement with child

care are other issues that older African Americans must often confront. However, few

researchers have examined how exactly this life cycle stage and its roles affect the marital

relationships of older Black adults.

The life course perspective posits that older Black couples would be very

influenced by their collective past and experiences as well as more present and concrete

interactions with both blood relatives and fictive kin. The propensity for older Black

couples to assume responsibility for child-rearing and caretaking is well documented

(Chatters & Taylor, 1990). How exactly it impacts a couples' sense of happiness with

their relationship remains unknown. "In sum, a life course perspective emphasizes the

importance of time, context, process and meaning on human development and family life"

(Bengston & Allen, 1993, p. 491).

Racial identity development theory was utilized to support the supposition that

identity status has an impact upon a person's view of both themselves and on their

relationships with others. It has been an important factor in the interactional dynamics

present in a therapeutic counseling relationship but has yet to be investigated in other

social dyadic interactions such as marriage.

Research Ouestions

The following research questions were examined in this study:

1. What is the relationship between marital satisfaction and racial identity status

in African American couples?

2. What is the relationship between marital satisfaction and age in older African

American couples?

3. What is the relationship between marital satisfaction and length of marriage in

older African American couples?

4. What is the relationship between marital satisfaction and income level in older

African American couples?

5. What is the relationship between racial identity status and age in older African

American couples?

6. What is the relationship between racial identity status and length of marriage in

older African American couples?

7. What is the relationship between racial identity status and income level in older

African American couples?

8. What is the difference between marital satisfaction by spousal gender in older

African American couples?

9. What is the difference between racial identity status by spousal gender in older

African American couples?

Definition of Terms

African American is a term that includes both a descriptor of a person's Black

racial characteristics and his or her historical makeup. To promote clarity within this

research study, this word was used interchangeably with the term "Black." This usage as

a proper noun is suggested by the Publication Manual of the American Psychological

Association (1994).

Afrocentric. This term refers to a world view that focuses on African or African

American culture, beliefs, values, and attitudes.

Cohort denotes a "group of individuals born within the same time interval,

usually five or ten years" (McManus, 1996).

Encounter status. This stage occurs when a Black individual experiences some

event that highlights the racial inequities inherent in U.S. society. This experience serves

as a catalyst to propel the individual though the racial identity process.

Ethnicity represents the cultural distinctiveness of a particular group from the

majority population as a result of racial or national identity as well as a shared cultural

history and values (Bengston & Morgan, 1987; Ho, 1987).

Eurocentric. This term refers to a world view that focuses on White or European

culture, beliefs, values, and attitudes.

Identity is defined as the attitudes, behaviors, cognitions, and affects that

comprise one's sense of self.

Immersion/emersion status occurs when African American individuals experience

an overwhelming adherence to Black culture and reject the dominant culture. The end

portion of this stage is marked by a transition to a more dichotomous way of thinking

about racial issues.

Internalization status. This stage is marked by experiencing African Americans as

one's reference group while validating the experience of other racial groups including the

dominant culture.

Life course perspective. This is a theoretical approach to studying families, that

is "contextual, processual, and dynamic" (Bengston & Allen, 1993). This theoretical

perspective combines the individual life span perspective with the family and societal

levels of analyses to facilitate a more complete understanding of familial change.

Life cycle theory provides an explanation of individual and family change that

assumes all families progress through certain stages/phases that are precipitated by some

"marker" events such as marriage or retirement (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 1991).

Marital satisfaction. Kaslow and Hammerschmidt (1992) defined this term as

"the sense of well being, contentment and overall good feeling, including camaraderie,

affection and safety" (p. 21) that occur in a relationship. They also purported that this

definition is broad enough to permit multicultural comparisons as well as being salient to a

variety of marital types.

Minority group. This term denotes a group of individuals who experience

discrimination, negative stereotyping, powerlessness, and are often visibly different from

the majority cultural group or "those members of a population group who are

disadvantaged in terms of political, social and economic activities with regard to societal

organization" (Wood, 1989).

Older adult is a concept that is constantly changing and being redefined. Both

McManus (1996) and Myers (1990) noted how this has changed during the past 100

years. It can be based on chronological age, self-assessed age, functional age, or

psychological age. For the purposes of this report it was 55 to be as inclusive as possible

and considering the racial differences in life span (AARP, 1990; Hines, 1989).

Race specifies the self-assessed connection between an individual and a particular

group that shares specific characteristics.

Preencounter status is marked by assimilation within the dominant culture and

disengagement from the African American culture.

Racial identity development is a term utilized by theorists to describe a process of

racial consciousness. Although a variety of terms have been used (e.g., Nigrescence.

minority development model, etc.) to describe this dynamic process, the term racial

identity development was utilized in this study.

Organization of the Dissertation

This dissertation is comprised of five chapters that describe the theory and

practice for the study. Chapter I presented the problem that the study addressed, the

need and purpose of the study, the pertinent theoretical frameworks, and the research

questions. Definitions of pertinent terms concluded the chapter.

The remainder of the dissertation is divided into four chapters. Chapter 2

contains a review of the relevant literature. Chapter 3 outlines the proposed research

methodology. Descriptions of the relevant variables, population, sampling procedures.

assessment instrumentation, research hypotheses, data collection procedures, and


projected data analyses are specified. Chapter 4 contains data analysis procedures and

the results. Chapter 5 contains a summary of the research study, a discussion of the

results, implications for clinical practice, and offers recommendations for future research.


The purpose of the proposed study was to examine the relationship between

racial identity attitudes and marital satisfaction in a population of older African American

couples. There is little empirical research regarding the nature of intimate relationships

among older persons of color. Whether this is due to the difficulty of recruiting

participants or perhaps to some racist tendencies in scientific inquiry (Akbar, 1991;

Azibo, 1992), the reality is that little has been written about this topic. Therefore, the

literature review is divided into several sections.

Due to the limited references available regarding older African American couples,

an overview of the experiences of Black couples and families is presented prior to the

section on marital satisfaction literature. The next section includes a survey of the

research literature describing older adults and their marital relationships. This seems to

fall into the following two categories: (a) marital satisfaction in older age and throughout

the married lifespan and (b) characteristics of long-term marriages. The literature that

does focus upon the marital quality of African Americans is not necessarily inclusive of

older participants and, therefore, is presented in a separate section.

The final section presents an overview of racial identity development theory as

well as the literature that has examined its impact on dyadic relationships. Life cycle and

life course theory is also presented in an effort to provide a more contextual framework

for understanding the proposed research study. In sum, the proposed research project

attempted to focus on a heretofore previously neglected group--the marital relationships

and racial identity status of older African American couples.

The African American Marital and Family Experience

The experience of being African American varies for each individual in the United

States, but there are underlying characteristics that are shared by people of African

descent. Black (1996) described the following as their shared attributes: the culture and

customs of Africa, the history of slavery, racism and discrimination, and the "victim

system." She, as well as others (Coke & Twaite, 1995; Hines & Boyd-Franklin, 1996),

believed that the enduring stoicism of African Americans within this unwelcoming system

may be attributed to the support of family and the importance of kinship bonds,

organized religion and spirituality, and the maintained culture of music, arts, and food. In

particular, the role of social support has played an important part in the African legacy.

During slavery, for example, the marital and family relationships of Black people served

important "buffer" functions from the cruelty of slave owners (Coke & Twaite, 1995).

This is the area where the proposed research project focused.

The current cohort of older Black adults is one that has experienced a vast array of

sociohistorical events. Older African Americans have weathered legalized segregation and

decreased employment and educational opportunities as well as national Black pride

movements and the struggle for equal rights (Baker, 1994). The traditional African values

of family and community are integral aspects of life for many members of the older

generation (Obudho, 1983). King and Griffin (1983) found that love relationships and

intimacy are important for African Americans of all ages. The idea of reciprocity is

important to many Black families because, historically, survival of the family was based

upon cooperation. Blood- and nonblood-related family members all play important roles

in the families' survival (McAdoo, 1993). The importance of the supportive functions of

the church and of religion have also long been noted by researchers (Black, 1996; Boyd-

Franklin, 1989; Tate, 1983).

An early study (Jackson, 1972) illustrated some of the marital patterns of older

African American adults in the early 1970s. She sampled a group of 135 older Black

adults and surveyed their perceptions of spousal activity patterns (both leisure and work)

and spousal dominance patterns. She discovered that matriarchy was not the norm for

most couples. Most of the participants considered themselves egalitarian in interactions

with their partners. There seemed to be an indication that there was more of a

relationship between spousal dominance and social class, with men being more dominant

in the lower class. This directly contradicted the previously held belief, by White

researchers, that Black society is matriarchal. In sum, there were no significant

differences by sex in these reported marital patterns.

One assumption that is often made in the study of African American aging is that

of the frequency and intensity of discrimination as well as other oppressive conditions

that are a fact of life in American society (Sue & Sue, 1990; Tate, 1983). The current

cohort of older Black adults were raised in an era where discrimination was legally

sanctioned and resulted in "blocked opportunities and an unequal share of this nation's

economic and social resources" (Tate, 1983, p. 97). Although the issues seems to be

empirically unresolved, she reported that older African Americans often score higher on

measures of life satisfaction than do older White adults.

Institutionalized racism has influenced how African American families have been

studied. The Black families that have received the most empirical attention tend to be the

families that are "the most economically depressed, most problematic African American

family structures" (McAdoo, 1993, p. 113), and researchers have erroneously concluded

that the outcomes were typical of all African American families, regardless of

socioeconomic status and income (Akbar, 1991).

The long history of meaningful and important marital and familial connections for

African Americans is thus well documented in the literature. What is lacking, however, is

a focus on the level of satisfaction older adults have with their marriages. The interaction

of racial identity attitudes is another area that has been overlooked in the lives of older

Black adults.

Marital Satisfaction Literature

Marital Satisfaction of Older Adults

Satisfaction may be one of the most heavily researched areas of marital inquiry

(Broman, 1988; Condie, 1989; Huyck, 1995; Kaslow & Hammerschmidt, 1992). The

literature regarding the marital relationships of older adults has been compiled by Melton,

Hersen, Van Sickle, and Van Hasselt (1995). Their literature review highlighted three

areas that often impact the marital relationship: retirement, physical illness of a spouse.

and sexual dysfunction. Their analysis indicated that satisfaction in long-term marriages

was not consistently demonstrated. This may be due, in part, to the wide disparity of

ages, disregard for societal context, homogeneity of samples, varied educational and

financial status as well as marriage length. The authors do report, however, that

"harmony in later years is a function of the marital relationship across the lifespan of the

couple" (p. 901).

Huyck (1995) provided a thorough overview of the area of marriage in later life.

Her review of the literature illuminated the heterogeneity in older marital relationships as

well as the continuity of relational style over time. Huyck did acknowledge that most

studies include populations of older White adults. She highlighted the importance of

certain variables such as ethnicity, social status, health, and impact of retirement on

marital satisfaction. There was, however, no mention of the impact of race.

The curvilinear relationship between marital duration and marital status has been

presumed to be the norm over the life course. A study by Orbuch, House, Mero, and

Webster (1996) that examined the points at which marital satisfaction begins to increase

and the factors that might account for the change found that reduced responsibilities and

commitments of later life were likely explanations for the change in satisfaction levels of

men and women. The authors utilized post hoc data on 3,617 American individuals who

were 25 years of age and older. They purported that African Americans and older adults

(60+) were "sampled at twice the rate ofnonblacks (sic) and persons under 60" (p. 164).

The dependent variables were marital satisfaction and thoughts of divorce. Also examined

were length of marriage, demographic variables (e.g., gender, race, and educational level),

economic predictors, parental status, and employment status. The results indicated that


the curvilinear relationship between marriage length and satisfaction was again supported

by the data. The authors found that marriages up to 20-24 years in length are associated

with decreased marital satisfaction. After this point, the levels of marital satisfaction tend

to steadily increase. They explained this change as being due to the decrease in parental,

vocational, and financial stress that often occurs in later life. The authors also associated

greater satisfaction with greater duration of marriage. However, this is based upon cross-

sectional data which make it difficult to ascertain factors contributing to both marital

longevity and satisfaction. The experiences of African Americans were not specifically

addressed in the study.

Emotional behavior in long-term marriage was the focus of Carstensen, Gottman,

and Levenson's (1995) study. The research focused on middle-aged and older couples

because previously researched marital interactions tended to focus on newly and young

married couples. The authors observed 156 married couples in a variety of videotaped

interactions. These interactions were coded in an effort to explore differences in

emotional satisfaction and interaction between older and middle-aged couples. The

authors found that older couples interacted in a more affectionate manner and with less

negative emotion than middle aged couples. They based their findings on the notion that

older couples attempt to utilize coping strategies that limit the amount of negative affect

in their interactions, thus optimizing emotional experiences while decreasing the

prevalence of negative emotional incidents. This study was preceded by Gottman and

Krokoffs (1989) work which examined the interface of marital interaction and marital


In this longitudinal study, the investigators sought to distinguish happy from

unhappy marriages as well as determining predictors of marital satisfaction. Their

respondents were comprised of younger couples (mean ages were 46 and 44 years of age

for men and women, respectively) who had been married for an average of 24 years. The

couples were administered the Locke-Wallace Marital Satisfaction Scale as well as being

observed interacting in a laboratory and preparing audiotapes of verbal interactions in

their homes. The authors found that certain types of conflict may facilitate marital

satisfaction over the long term as long as it is devoid of "defensiveness, stubbornness, and

withdrawal" (p. 51). Couples that avoid conflict may, over time, have less satisfied

marriages. The results also seemed to indicate that there were some gender differences.

Women who were positive and acquiescent reported satisfied marriages at the outset of

the study; there was a tendency for satisfaction to decrease over time. Women who

expressed anger and contempt during conflicts reported increased satisfaction over time.

and men who were withdrawn or stubborn reported decreased marital happiness.

Therefore, the affect and behaviors of men and women have the potential to greatly

influence marital satisfaction.

Many older couples report high marital quality, but the degree of satisfaction

throughout the different stages of later life is unknown. Rosalie Gilford (1984) studied

contrasts in levels of interaction and sentiment as related to exchange theory within a

sample of 318 married adults who ranged in age from 55 to 90. These individuals were

placed into three age groups. The youngest old were 55-62, the middle group ranged from

63-69, and the oldest group ranged from 70-90. Her rationale for utilizing this design was

to "approximate a longitudinal design" (p. 326). The participants were assessed on the

dimensions of positive interaction and negative sentiment. These dependent variables

were analyzed in relation to independent social and personal variables that indicated there

was a trend toward higher marital satisfaction in "young-old" couples with a decline in

satisfaction for older couples. There was also a sex difference that indicated men were

more satisfied than women, thus upholding similar finding in other studies. Gilford also

found that satisfaction was more closely linked to the personality of spouses as opposed

to socioeconomic status. The finding that quality differs as a result of age group, and the

potential for dissatisfaction, is a significant finding that has implications for mental health


In another attempt to look at differences in marital satisfaction by older age group,

Herman's (1994) work was based on the findings of the literature that indicated three

different trajectories for marital satisfaction in older age. Different research projects have

supported these varying views that marital satisfaction can either increase, decrease, or

remain constant in later life. The goal of his work was to identify changes in the various

substages of later life (e.g., for the "young-old" vs. the "old-old"). The study utilized the

responses of 168 older (i.e., 55-68 years old) married people on the Marital Satisfaction

Questionnaire, the Kansas Marital Satisfaction Scale, the Coopersmith Self-Esteem

Questionnaire and a demographics sheet. Herman found no significant age-related

differences in overall marital satisfaction. He deduced from his data that older married

people, in any cohort, are no more or no less satisfied at this point in time than any other.

Herman did caution against overgeneralization based upon the cross-sectional nature of

the study. An important implication of his work is that mental health professionals

should encourage the few elderly couples who do experience marital dissatisfaction to

pursue professional intervention.

Acitelli and Antonucci (1994) examined the relationship between marital

satisfaction and marital support among older couples. They hypothesized that couples

would perceive reciprocity of social support as being greater than it really was and that

marital satisfaction would be related with perceived reciprocity of support and that this

would have greater significance for the wives. To test their hunches, they interviewed 69

couples who had a mean age of 74 years. The marriages ranged from 2 to 64 years with a

mean of 41 years together. The marital dyads were interviewed in their homes and asked

varying questions assessing perception of marital support as well as marital satisfaction.

Health status was also discussed. The authors found that spouses did perceive

reciprocity of social support as being greater than it was in actuality but that this

perception did not necessarily relate to marital satisfaction. The r.icr h b iij. I ,,

bore out their postulation that perceptions of social support were more important for

wives and impacted their reported marital satisfaction.

In an effort to develop a taxonomy of long-term marital types that incorporated

levels of marital satisfaction, Weishaus and Field (1988) utilized post hoc data from a

sample of 17 older couples who were participants in the longitudinal Berkeley Older

Generation Study. In-depth interviews that had been conducted over a period of 50+

years were reviewed to generate the "dynamic" models of long-term marriage that

encompassed both a temporal aspect as well as the characteristics of the relationship.


The categories they devised are as follows: (a) Stable/positive marriages are unions that

are perceived as being stable over time and characterized by high satisfaction throughout

the marriage; (b) stable/neutral couples do not experience moderate satisfaction that has

been consistently maintained; (c) stable/negative marriages are perceived as being low in

satisfaction during the course of the marriage; (d) curvilinear relationships demonstrate the

commonly found pattern of marriages that begin with high satisfaction, dip to a low point

during childrearing years, and increase during later years of marriage; (e) continuous

decline is described as a pattern of moderate to low satisfaction at the relationship's

inception with a steady decrease over time; and (f) continuous increase couples are those

who, theoretically, experience moderate satisfaction that consistently increases over time.

In this admittedly small sample, the authors found that 75% of the couples could be

classified as either the stable/positive or curvilinear types.

Factors contributing to the stability and satisfaction in long-term marriages are the

subject of Lauer, Lauer, and Kerr's (1990) research. They attempted to look at the

variables that contributed to maintenance of the relationship as opposed to factors that

predicted disruption. The authors recruited 100 married couples who had been married

from 45 to 64 years and administered the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS). They also

surveyed these respondents for their attitudes toward their spouse as well as requesting

participants' perceptions of factors which had contributed to marital longevity. Lauer,

Lauer, and Kerr found that 91.5% of the participants indicated they were "happy, very

happy, or extremely happy" with their marriages. The DAS indicated high levels of

agreement between spouses and the attitudes toward spouses were highly positive. The


factors that were identified as being critical toward the maintenance of the marriage were

(a) being with someone they liked, (b) commitment, (c) humor, and (d) agreement. The

authors posited that the shared spousal perceptions of critical variables contributed to the

successes of these marriages. The authors did note that their findings may not be

generalizable to populations that are impoverished or unhealthy.

Critical components of the long-term marriage were the subject of two recent

studies (Kaslow & Robison, 1996; Kaslow & Hammerschmidt, 1992). The study by

Kaslow and Hammerschmidt (1992) set out to investigate the key factors of satisfying

long-term marriages. They conducted a pilot study that consisted of 20 couples who had

been married for 25 or more years. The sample was comprised of relatively affluent,

White respondents. They reported that good problem-solving skills, trust, commitment,

good communication, shared interests and activities, and love to be important components

of their long-term marriages. The authors acknowledged the limitations of the small and

homogenous sample but argued that further research is necessary to understand the nature

of longevity in relationships. There are also significant clinical implications for therapists

working with these populations.

The more recent study (Kaslow & Robison, 1996) hypothesized that there is a

certain "cluster" of characteristics that facilitate the maintenance of marriage for couples

married 25 or more years. Fifty-seven couples, mean age 56.8, who had been married

from 25 to 46 years were the sample for this project. Each couple received five

assessment instruments that included a sociodemographic data sheet, a questionnaire that

assessed problem-solving strategies, a problem-rating list, a questionnaire regarding the

couples' perceptions of ingredients of marital satisfaction, and the Dyadic Adjustment

Scale (DAS). Based upon their DAS scores, 29 respondent couples scored in the

"satisfied" range, 15 couples scored in the "midrange," and the remaining 13 couples were

classified as "dissatisfied." A great deal of descriptive data were reported; however, there

was little empirical connection between the DAS scores and the other data generated by

each couple. The study focused on the qualities that the couples reported as being salient

to the maintenance of marriage over time. Commitment to the relationship, respect, trust,

support, shared religious beliefs, shared interests, and love were among the most

important qualities reported by the respondents.

Marital quality in later life was the subject of Dickson's (1995) work. She

reported on long-term marriages of older couples and also speculated as to the reasons

that these couples remain together. This author found that there were three basic

characteristics of perceived satisfactory long-term marriages. These characteristics were

respect for one another, agreement on levels of intimacy, and a shared perception of their

life together. On the other hand, unhappy couples who remained together into older age

reported that a high level of commitment to the relationship, decreased viability of divorce

as an option, and the experience of a high level of emotional distance. Dickson stated

that couples who experience satisfactory marriages in early years are more likely to report

high levels of marital satisfaction in later life.

Marital satisfaction has often been studied in conjunction with specific events in

the lives of older adults such as retirement or spousal disability or illness. The relatively

small number of outcome research studies on the impact of retirement upon later-life

marriages represents a variety of views. Various researchers have found retirement to

have either no effect on marriage (Lee & Shehan, 1989; Matthews & Brown, 1987) or

slight positive (Gilford, 1984) or negative effects (Ekerdt & Vinick, 1991; Pina &

Bengston,1995). The extant literature seems to indicate that marital history is the best

indicator of satisfaction after retirement.

Marital Satisfaction in African American Families

There are limited data regarding the marital satisfaction of Black couples (Ball &

Robbins, 1986; Broman, 1988) and few data regarding older couples. This section

presents some of the relevant findings about the marital satisfaction and life satisfaction

of African American adults that may be used to hypothesize about the relationships of

older Black couples.

McAdoo (1993) cited work by Zollar and Williams (1987) that found married

African Americans to be more satisfied with their lives than those who were unmarried.

This supports Coke and Twaite's (1995) postulation that marriage is important for Black

Americans despite a decline in the statistics of intact marriages of older couples (U.S.

Bureau of the Census, 1994). McAdoo (1993) also postulated that White and Black

families may not be so very different. His research in the area of marital satisfaction

seemed to indicate that patterns of marital satisfaction for Black couples resemble those

of White couples.

In a study of marital quality over the life course, Adelmann, Chadwick. and

Baerger (1996) utilized post hoc data that included responses from 1,430 Black and White

married adults in their first marriage. The study included data provided by 333 Black

participants. Marital quality over the life course showed the typical curvilinear pattern,

but the curve for marital interdependence starts low and gradually increases over time.

Although there were no significant differences in marital quality for Black and White

adults, the authors reported that the African American individuals indicated lower

positive marital quality and higher negative marital quality than White participants. The

variables that the authors suspected would account for ethnic group differences in marital

quality (e.g., kin relationships and status inequality) did not eliminate the intergroup

differences. The authors stated that they were striving to test the generalizability of the

'typical" curvilinear pattern of marital satisfaction over the life course to African

Americans. The comparison of Black participants to the White participants may have

implications that responses of African Americans are somehow "less than" those of

Whites (Azibo, 1992; Stanford & Yee, 1991). The argument is once again made for

studying the lives of African American people in relation to themselves instead of to the

dominant culture.

A large scale study that utilized both post hoc data from the National Survey of

Black Americans and focus groups examined various correlates of marriage and romantic

involvement for 581 older Black adults (Tucker, Taylor, & Mitchell-Keran, 1993).

Thirty-nine percent of the participants were currently married, and 16.5% were involved

in romantic relationships. The remaining individuals were divided by those who desired

romantic involvement and those who did not. The authors discovered that the

independent variables of age, gender, education, income level, and place of residence were

predictors of marital or romantic involvement status of older Black adults. For example,

as the age of individuals increased, their likelihood of being married decreased. This

seems to be the case particularly for Black women as there is a high proportion of

unmarried older women. This may be related to the lower life expectancies for Black men.

Rural inhabitants were more likely to be married than city dwellers as were the younger

respondents in the sample. The study also indicated a positive relationship between

marital status and quality of life for older Black adults.

In an another study, Dennis and Williams (1984) found a significant relationship

between older Black adults' financial and health satisfaction and their life satisfaction

levels. There was a stronger correlation for women than for men. Although this was a

study that focused on global life satisfaction as opposed to marital satisfaction, the

connection between finances and satisfaction is highlighted as are gender differences.

Marriage and parenthood were the focus of Broman's (1988) study. He

hypothesized that marital and parenting status had significant impact on life satisfaction

for Black couples. He utilized post hoc data from the National Survey of Black

Americans and derived a sample of 2, 107 interview responses from a national cross

section of the adult African American population in 1979-1980. Of this sample, 732

interviews were completed with African Americans who were 50 or older. Life

satisfaction and family satisfaction were measured. The analyses indicated that older

people have higher levels of satisfaction as well as those with less education and who live

in the rural South. Broman also found that "divorced and separated blacks [sic] have

lower levels of life satisfaction than persons in other marital status categories" (p. 47).

Therefore, the important predictors of satisfaction appeared to be the interaction of

marital status with age, education, and rural residence.

Ball and Robbins (1986), on the other hand, found that marital status was an

important indicator of life satisfaction for men only. Their study examined the

relationship between marital status and global life satisfaction in a sample of 373 Black

women and 253 Black men aged 18 and older. Of this sample, 135 participants were aged

50 and older. The authors hypothesized that there would be differences in life

satisfaction levels of persons with different marital statuses. They found that married

Black men were the least satisfied persons of any category. When controls for age, social

participation, health, adjusted income, and education were added, the married men were

significantly less satisfied than the divorced, separated, or widowed men. For women,

widows had the highest mean levels of life satisfaction, followed by the divorced and then

the married. Older women, as a group, appeared to be more satisfied than younger

women. Marriage, on the whole, was not associated with high levels of satisfaction in

this study.

Rutledge (1983) closely examined the husband and wife relationships of 252

African American married couples who ranged in age from 25-60. There were also four

women included in the study who were not married. The exploratory research study

attempted to describe various aspects of the marital relationship such as marital

interaction, opportunity of fulfilling marital interaction goals, and marital happiness.

Rutledge found that, in her sample, marital interaction goals were highly important to

both husbands and wives. Barring the goals of decision making, handling disagreements,

and sex, most interactional goals were slightly more important for the women. Although

the marital interaction goals were important for the study participants, their

opportunities to achieve these goals were less available. Husbands seemed to have a

higher likelihood of fulfilling their marital interaction goals than were the wives, but there

was some discrepancy between what was important to their marriage and their abilities to

fulfill the goals. The marital satisfaction measures indicated that the majority of men and

women expressed satisfaction on all of the items except those relating to anger and

spousal irritation. However, the author pointed out that levels of dissatisfaction were

higher for women than for men which supported previous research (Gilford, 1984).

The African American experience was the focus of McAdoo's (1993) research on

family power and marital satisfaction. He found that 97% of his participants reported

satisfaction with their spouses. There were no significant gender differences in decision-

making scores. Although his sample was small, the results were important in that they

emphasized the participants' satisfaction with their partners and with themselves.

Although this study did not specifically focus on older adults, the sample of solely

African American couples is important in delineating the cultural experiences and realities

that are specific to this racial group.

A longitudinal study by Timmer, Veroff, and Hatchett (1996) illustrated the

relationships between levels of in-law and family-of-origin interactions on marital

happiness. Although the sample involved was comprised of young newlyweds. the

substantial focus on the experience of the 115 Black couples is significant. The

investigators also utilized a life course perspective to undergird their hypotheses that

Black couples' marital happiness will be influenced by specific factors relative to their

racial group membership and history such as their level of family interaction, economic

status as well as family structure. They found that marital adjustment for the Black

couples was influenced by level of closeness to spousal in-laws (especially husbands'

families) but not an intact family background.

The experience of internalized racism on marital satisfaction is the focus of

Taylor's 1992 study. He hypothesized that internalized racism is inversely related to

levels of marital satisfaction and the findings minimally support it. Taylor made the

point that there are virtually no studies that link the experience of racism, or its impact, to

marital satisfaction. The sample consisted of 96 Black married couples in a Northeastern

city. The Locke-Wallace was utilized to assess marital satisfaction levels, and the

Nadanolitization Inventory (NAD) measured levels of internalized racism. The results

indicated that internalized racism predicted levels of marital satisfaction for the husbands.

That is, men who reported higher levels of racism reported decreased levels of marital

satisfaction. Interestingly, when the researcher controlled for socioeconomic status, the

influence of internalized racism became nonsignificant. The correlation between husbands

and wives was moderate (.56). The marital satisfaction of husbands and wives was not

affected by their spouse's level of internalized racism.

Summary of Marital Satisfaction Literature

It would seem that the literature indicates that older married adults rate themselves

as quite satisfied in their relationships. There appears to be an increase in satisfaction

over the marital life cycle which is thought to be due to the decrease in roles and

responsibilities. Some characteristics of satisfied marriages are thought to be

commitment, trust, and love. However, it is also possible that unhappy couples may not

maintain marriage into later life or, more simply, may not choose to partake in studies of

marital satisfaction. The independent variables that have been found to have an impact on

older couples' marital satisfaction are age (Gilford, 1984), financial status (Huyck, 1995),

educational level (Melton et al., 1995), length of marriage (Orbuch et al., 1996), and sex

(Gilford, 1984; Gottman & Krokoff, 1989).

The research findings that have been presented seem to indicate that the incidence

of marriages for African American couples are predicted by the variables of age, gender,

educational and income levels, and residential area and positively correlated with high

quality of life for older adults (Tucker et al., 1993). Gender seems to have an impact

upon men and women's perception of marital satisfaction (Ball & Robbins, 1986;

Rutledge, 1983; Taylor, 1992) although it is unclear whether men or women are the most

dissatisfied. Financial status also had an impact on some studies' participants (Dennis &

Williams, 1984; Timmer et al., 1996). The older dyads have also been found to be more

satisfied than younger couples (Ball & Robbins, 1986).

The present study focuses on the variables of length of marriage, income level, age,

and gender as these items appear to have been significant in studies that focused on older

couples as well as African American couples.

Theoretical Underpinnings

Life Cycle Theory

The developmental family life cycle model attempts to explain changes in

structure and role over the course of time (Schwartz & Scott, 1994). It assumes that most

families progress through certain stages that are marked by specific events such as birth,

marriage, and death. It is hypothesized that the couple or family will need to adapt to

these changes in order to proceed developmentally through the life cycle (Goldenberg &

Goldenberg, 1991).

This theory has also undergone a great deal of revision since its inception. Family

life cycle theory had been criticized for its original postulation that there is a "correct"

way in which to proceed through the stages of development (Schwartz & Scott, 1994).

The theory often presumed to explain "normal" family development. It also focused on

women's role of caregiver and men's relationships to the world of work. Recent

reformulations have noted the importance of diversity across family units. Divorce. race,

and ethnicity have been included within the life cycle perspective (Carter & McGoldrick,

1989). Bengston and Allen (1993) made the point that this theory has conceptual merit

in understanding family organization and transition.

Walsh (1989) described the later stages of the family life cycle. She purported

that later life holds many challenges and joys for older adults. The need for adaptability

to changing physical health, financial resources, and social support structures is critical as

older adults face developmental changes. Hines (1989) discussed the differences that

some older Black families face in this life cycle context. She highlighted the reality that

many older African American couples do not experience the "empty nest" but continue to

function actively as parents and grandparents in multigenerational households.

Mathis and Tanner (1991) studied cohesion, adaptability, and satisfaction of

family systems in later life. The study was undertaken to ascertain if there are empirical

differences between family adaptability and cohesion across the life cycle. There was

also the need to focus on later life and standardize assessment instruments (i.e., FACES

III) that would measure the experience of older age. The participants were 47 White older

couples who were members of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

They were administered the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scales

(FACES III) and the Family Satisfaction Scale. The authors found that, as expected,

family satisfaction increased later in the life cycle. Older families also seemed to share

leadership and had role flexibility. They also found that the family levels of adaptability

were so high as to be considered "unhealthy" according to the Circumplex Model. The

high adaptability may have been related to the number of changes that occur to older

families over the course of the life cycle.

Family life cycle theory is helpful as a tool for providing context to the study.

The theory provides a framework by which the family structure of older African

Americans can be understood with respect to culturally relevant roles, structure, and


Life Course Perspective

The life course perspective has much in common with racial identity development

theory as evidenced in the social gerontological literature. The developmental, contextual,

and temporal nature of both theories provides a solid base from which to hypothesize

about the nature of marriage for older African American couples.

The life course perspective is an oft-utilized framework for understanding aging

(Adelmann et al., 1996; Barresi, 1987; Marshall, 1996; Uhlenberg & Miner. 1996) within

a societal context. It developed from a variety of disciplines to incorporate sociological,

psychological, and family development theories. Life course theory seeks to incorporate

perspectives of the individual, the family, and the greater social climate in an effort to

study the effects of their interactions over time (Bengston & Allen, 1993). The

acknowledgment of not only an individual's personal history but that of his or her cohort

or in this case, his or her racial group, is critical to understanding the aging process.

Dilworth-Anderson et al. (1993) stated, in fact, that the life course perspective is only

one of three theoretical perspectives on the family that really holds promise for inclusion

of cultural relevance. The life course perspective has also been presumed to be a "more

welcoming framework" (Adelmann et al., 1996, p. 364) for study of the marital quality of

Black adults over the life course.

Bengston and Allen (1993) proposed that there exist four basic assumptions that

underpin the life course perspective. The assumptions include the following concepts: a

temporal context, social context, dynamic developmental perspective, and heterogeneity.

Time is an important factor in the conception of the life course as individual time

interfaces with historical time. For example, this research project sought to examine the

experience of older Black persons (individual time) in the 1990s (historical time). The

results, therefore, are specific, or generalizable, only to this specific cohort of individuals.

The social context in which the older couples live, and have lived, is also purported to

affect their sense of themselves as an individual, part of a couple, and as part of the

African American racial group in the United States. The life course also encompasses a

dynamic process of change over time and involves a look at "the big picture" as opposed

to thin, cross-sectional slices. Finally, the concept of heterogeneity is inclusive and all-

encompassing of various people and lifestyles. This idea, in particular, makes the life

course an ideal framework for scientists and practitioners who seek to understand racial

and ethnic differences in families (Adelmann et al., 1996; Dilworth-Anderson et al., 1993).

Baker (1994) made the important point of emphasizing a life course perspective

as well as a biopsychosocial context when examining the lives of older African Americans.

This author exhorts mental health professionals to be highly aware of the events that

older Black adults have faced during their lifetimes and the effects these experiences may

have upon their perceptions of themselves or of their relationships with others.

Burton, Dilworth-Anderson, and Bengston (1991) also highlighted the

interrelatedness of gerontological issues and racial diversity with the life course

perspective. They pointed out the salience of the life course perspective in understanding

the lives of older adults of color because of its themes of family interdependence,

temporal context, and historical perspective. They postulated that a life course

perspective enhances the study of "ethnic minority" older adults because it provides a

culturally sensitive framework for the examination of life course issues that incorporates

the specific experiences of not only the group as a whole but also that of individuals,

couples, and families.

Luborsky and Rubinstein (1987) focused on the impact of ethnicity upon the life

course but parallels to racial identity development may be seen. For example, they

contended that past experiences greatly influence one's current ethnic identity. This

seems strikingly similar to the notion of the effect of "encounter" experiences upon one's

racial identity. Racial identity is also a life experience that constantly impact one's sense

of self and reference group. The authors posited that the meaning of ethnicity and its

resultant identity is influenced by life span development and family history, historical

setting and cohort experiences, situational factors, and the recursive nature of

understanding one's ethnicity.

The life course, in effect, provides the setting in which racial identity development

can take place. It acknowledges the specific history of African American people and

incorporates it into their sense of individual and group experiences.

Racial Identity Development

How people think about themselves and their place in the world, or identity, is a

cornerstone of both psychological and sociological research. Gatz and Cotton (1994)

stated that human beings define themselves on two dimensions, the social and the

personal. They stated that the social definition of self is shaped by membership in

various social groups and the personal dimension is the sum of all individually distinctive

characteristics (i.e., physical, psychological, and relational). For persons of color, these

definitions of identity would also comprise both their own and their racial group's

perceptions of themselves.


The social changes that occurred in the late 1960s had an impact upon the research

that was being conducted in the latter part of the decade and well into the 1970s (Helms,

1989). A number of social scientists began investigating the development of racial

identity in persons of color. Although identity development has only come under this

scientific scrutiny during the past 25 years, examples from African American literature

point to the veracity of the claims that people of color have long struggled with their

sense of themselves within American society (Cross, Parham, & Helms, 1991).

Typologies and stage theories were posited by a number of researchers (Atkinson

et al., 1989; Cross, 1971; Vontress, 1971). Stage theories that focused on racial identity

development became popular and well researched in this area. William Cross's (1971)

early work on what he termed "nigrescence,"or the "process of becoming psychologically

'Black,' [and] refers to the attitudinal and behavioral changes associated with Blacks'

identification with the concept of Black empowerment" (Jenkins, 1995, p. 177) has

developed into one of the most widely utilized and researched frameworks in this area

(Ramseur, 1989). This model has been revised and updated (Cross. 1995; Cross et at.,

1991; Helms, 1993; Parham, 1989a, 1989b) and, using the more current title "Racial

Identity Development Model," is utilized as one the primary theoretical bases in this

research project.

Racial identity development is purported to be a dynamic process that Black

individuals experience over the course of their lifetime (Helms, 1993 ; Parham. 1989a.

1989b). African Americans are constantly faced with racial issues in this society, and the

racial identity development model attempts to explain the process of experiencing their


"Blackness" and the effect this experience has on their view of themselves and the world

(Cross et al., 1991). The task of constructing a positive sense of self and own racial

group within a racist society is critical. Jenkins (1995) pointed out that progression

through the racial identity statuses does not affect the person's intrinsic personality

features but, instead, changes the individual's racial priorities. The dynamic model

incorporates five stages or, as Helms (1994, 1995) has redefined them, statuses which

incorporate beliefs, emotions, and behaviors related to own and other racial group

membership (Helms, 1984).

Status seems to be a more appropriate terminology as it suggests that the distinct

"periods" outlined within the model are permeable and signify a dynamic process for

individuals. Helms (1995) stated that "an individual may exhibit attitudes behaviors, and

emotions reflective of more than one stage ... [and] stage seems to imply a static place or

condition that the person "reaches" rather than the dynamic interplay between cognitive

and emotional processes that racial identity models purport to address" (p. 183). Some

theorists also view each stage/status as an identity, or world view, in its own right (Cross

et al., 1991).

The statuses are not always mutually exclusive or discrete. It is theorized that

individuals progress through these "statuses" during the course of their lifetimes with the

potential of cycling and recycling through any of the statuses at any given time (Parham,

1989a). In other words, once a person has experienced one of the statuses, it "is always

potentially present, although the ego as a whole is always potentially changing in

response to new (racial) societal messages. Thus, earlier modes of coping can influence

people even after they think that they have resolved their racial identity issues" (Helms.

1994, p. 302). As a person encounters different developmental tasks that are associated

with various life cycle events (e.g., marriage, childbirth), these events may function as

catalysts for rethinking values, attitudes, and behaviors (Cross et al., 1991). This process

continually marks the individual's journey of understanding and accepting his/her race as

an integral part of who he/she is.

The statuses are presented in order of their complexity, and the higher stages

indicate greater development or maturity (Helms, 1994). Status 1 (or Stage 1) is that of

"Pre-Encounter." In Cross's original model (1971) the focus was on assimilation of the

majority culture. It was believed that people who experienced Status 1 participated in the

denigration of African American heritage and embraced the European American culture.

Cross (1995) has since modified this perspective to provide a more logical explanation of

the first status. He explained that individuals, at this point, do not necessarily experience

self or group hatred but, perhaps, subscribe to a more Eurocentric orientation out of

ignorance or fear. Cross termed the issue of race for these people as being "low salience."

Jenkins (1995) further clarified this point with the explanation that African Americans

who are in the Pre-Encounter status give a higher priority to being an "American" rather

than to being "Black." These people tend to accept the status quo view of their race.

Status, or stage, 2 is the "Encounter" where the person has an experience that

serves to jolt him or her out of the previous state of non-Afrocentric orientation. Many

examples from Black literature often accompany descriptions of the encounter

experiences (i.e., W.E.B. Dubois, Malcolm X) of well-known African Americans. The

descriptions are eloquent in their shock to the individual's sense of self. Cross (1995)

stated that although Black people are frequently faced with racist situations, until they

personalize the meaning of these "encounters," their world views will continue to be

unchallenged. When a person does experience a racial "epiphany," he or she may

experience any number of differing emotions such as anger, depression, or sadness. The

variety of feelings that accompany this experience indicate the magnitude of the encounter

event and its meaning to the individual. In effect, the individual experiences and

personalizes a particular "trigger" event and then, in turn, reinterprets the world from the

new perspective (Cross et al., 1991).

The third status is that of"Immersion/Emersion." It is likened to a transition

between lack of awareness of one's racial identity and a more global understanding of self

and other racial groups. The early portion, "Immersion," is marked by the individual's

adherence to Black culture and his or her eschewing of the White culture (Cross, 1995:

Helms, 1993). The intense feelings of racial pride are often accompanied by anger or

aggression toward the majority culture and its members, as well as to one's own previous

part in maintaining the status quo of racism. Although the individual becomes very

involved with anything related to Black culture, he or she, ironically, may become very

judgmental of those who they perceive as not being "Black enough."

The end status of "Emersion" signifies the person of color's emergence from this

stage to a more integrated, and less dichotomous, way of thinking. The ability to examine

more critically both the strengths and weaknesses of this new identity status emerge

(Jenkins, 1995).

The intensity of emotions abates, somewhat, and the individual gains a more

balanced perspective to evaluate racial issues. Cross (1995), in his update of the

statuses/stages, also pointed out that the experience of "Immersion/Emersion" can result

in a person regressing to the earlier Pre-Encounter status or fixation at Status 3. Either

option does not allow for the person to experience a more integrated sense of self as a

person of color in White world.

"Intemalization" is the fourth status. It signifies resolution of the inner turmoil of

defining oneself as a person of color in a racist society. Being African American is now

seen as impacting upon every part of one's life experience (e.g., social roles, spirituality).

One's world view and sense of self have also made a shift to incorporate Helms' (1993)

statement that "in developing a stable Black identity the individual can face the world

from a position of personal strength, [and] it now becomes possible to renegotiate one's

positions with respect to Whites and White society" (p. 29). Therefore, an individual

who experiences this state has African Americans as his or her primary reference group.

but he or she is more open to the experiences of other racial groups including that of the

dominant (White) culture.

The final status, "Intemalization-Commitment." was proposed in Cross' (1971)

original model. He maintained that the fifth status is closely related to the fourth and is

differentiated by a enduring interest and commitment to transforming one's "personal

sense of Blackness into a plan of action" (p. 121) for the racial group as a whole (Cross,

1995). More recently. Helms (1993, 1995) has raised questions about the viability of this

status as separate and distinct from the previous one. She argues that "Intemalization-

Commitment" has not been empirically separated, or operationally defined, as being

distinct from the fourth status. As a result, she collapses Status Four and Five and

utilizes the first four statuses as descriptors in her empirical research.

Parham's (1989a, 1989b) recent contributions also posited alternatives to strict

linear progression through the developmental sequence. He asserted that resolution of

identity development is not necessarily in a linear fashion that ends with Internalization.

Stagnation is possible at any point in the developmental process as is recycling through

the racial identity statuses (Cross et al., 1991).

Helms' (1984) earlier work examined the effects of race on the counseling dyad.

She presented her interactive model of counseling, which is based on the assumption that

all individuals struggle with racial consciousness development, that investigates cross- and

same-race therapeutic interactions. She examined Black dyads, White dyads, and mixed

race dyads and proceeded to describe possible interactional outcomes based upon both

client and counselor racial identity status. Helms used the following terms to describe the

nature of the counseling relationship based upon the status of the participants: parallel,

crossed, progressive, and regressive. Parallel indicates that counselor and client share the

same identity, crossed refers to the fact that each holds opposing attitudes about race.

progressive indicates that therapist is further along in the identity development process,

and regressive refers to the client being ahead of the counselor in the identity development


Helms (1984) provided support from her earlier research (Parham & Helms, 1981)

that indicated that Black students with a preencounter identity prefer White therapists

and African American students who identity with the Immersion status tend to prefer

African American counselors. Helms pointed out that people "at different stages of racial

consciousness probably enter counseling relationships with different attitudinal and

behavioral predispositions" (p. 156), and it could be extrapolated further to ask the

following question: Is this true for intimate marital relationships?

Helms (1993) offered a descriptive model of social interaction based upon her

counseling framework. Although she admitted there is no empirical evidence to support

her extrapolations, she asked salient questions regarding the social interaction between

individuals engaged in the identity development process. Helms stated that the parallel,

crossed, progressive, and regressive interactional styles that she identified in counseling

relationships may also be applicable to other types of social interactions such as parents

and children and, more importantly for this study, husbands and wives. She suggested

that the more powerful partner replace the "counselor"mode in her interactional model

and that the less powerful partner replace the "client" mode. Thus, the descriptions of

the interactions would remain much the same. Helms did provide speculation on the

relationship types as a function of various racial combinations of the partners, but for this

study, the most salient pairing would be that of Black dyads (see Figure 1).

As illustrated, the types of dyads are outlined as are the relationship types

between partners with similar or dissimilar racial identity status. Although it may, at

times, be difficult to determine who is the more powerful partner within a marriage, the

framework may serve as a useful tool for predicting marital interactions and satisfaction

based upon racial identity development. Helms (1993) encouraged professionals in the

Table 1

Summary of Relationship Types Based Upon Participants' Racial Identity Status (A
modified version of Helms' 1993 Model)

Dyad Type Powerful Partner's Less Powerful General Theme
Racial Identity Partner's Racial
Status Identity Status
Parallel 1. Preencounter 1. Preencounter Stable, placid and
2. Encounter 2. Encounter harmonious dyads.
3. n 3. Participants feel
3. Immersion 3. Immersion supported and
4. Internalization 4. Internalization understood. Racial
attitudes are not apt
to change.

Progressive 1. Encounter, 1. Preencounter Some tension in
Immersion or relationship due to
racial issues. The
Internalization greater the distance
2. Immersion, 2. Encounter between statuses, the
Internalization more tension.
3. Internalization 3. Immersion Greatest growth
occurs because
participants' role
expectations are not

Regressive 1. Preencounter 1. Encounter, Conflicted
Immersion, relationships are
marked by fights
Internalization about racial issues.
2. Encounter 2. Immersion, The greater the
Internalization difference between
3. Immersion 3. Internalization partners' identity
status, the greater the
Relationships can be
because the
participants' growth is

Crossed 1. Preencounter 2. Immersion Most conflicted
relationship type.
Characterized by fear,
disharmony and
conflict. Not like to
be growth producing.

field to continue to explore this area as "empirical investigations of dyadic relationships

rarely focus on racial adjustment as a significant aspect of the relationship (p. 185).

The literature that examines the influence of racial identity attitudes on social

interactions provides a basis for extrapolating to the proposed study. Richardson and

Helms (1994) studied Black men's racial identity attitudes relative to their perceptions of

"parallel" counseling dyads. The racial identity attitudes of 52 Black male college

students were assessed, and then the participants evaluated counseling dyads that were

comprised of a Black client and a White counselor. The parallel dyads engaged in a

discussion of race-oriented issues. The students then completed a counselor rating form.

cross-cultural counseling inventory, and voice quality questionnaire. The authors found

that higher scores on the Encounter subscale seemed to correlate with negative emotional

reactions to the White male counselor within the parallel dyads. Results of this study

seemed to indicate that racial identity attitudes predicted the participants' emotional

reactions to the "counselor" although it was unclear if cognitive reactions were similarly


Carter and Helms (1992) sought to confirm their hypothesis that different

combinations of racial identity attitudes of counselors and clients result in different types

of therapeutic relationships. While race itself was not predicted to influence the

interpersonal interaction, the combination of attitudes was purported to be the more

significant factor. They suggested that progressive relationships may be described as

empathic, growth-inducing and accepting. Regressive relationships, on the other hand, are

likely to be conflictual or anxiety ridden for both participants. Parallel relationships are

hypothesized to be supportive yet not overtly challenging while crossed relationships

may be the least productive of all. The exploratory study involved 33 pairs of mental

health workers who attended cross-cultural training workshops. The participants were

randomly assigned to various types of racial pairings (e.g., Black-Black, White-White,

Black-White). Each person completed either the Racial Identity Attitude Scale or the

White Racial Identity Attitudes Inventory. The dyads were then instructed discuss a

racial experience. They then rated the interaction with a variety of session evaluation

measures. Upon completion of the study, the pairs were classified as a particular

relationship type based upon the results of their racial identity attitude scale scores. The

results indicated that for parallel dyads the interactions were characterized as placid,

smooth, and positive. Progressive pairings seemed to result in interactions between

"counselors" and "clients" that were hopeful, supportive, and nonconflictual.

Participants indicated that the focus of the session seemed to be on the "client" and his or

her emotions and cognitions. In this study, the regressive dyads indicated that there was

some hostility in the interactions. There were no dyads that were defined as crossed.

Carter's (1988) study focused upon the relationship between racial identity

attitudes and social class in a group of 174 Black college students. The participants

completed the Racial Identity Attitude Scale as well as questions regarding socioeconomic

status variables. Carter found that socioeconomic status variables did not predict racial

identity attitudes in this study. He noted that this finding was unexpected in light of the

common assumption that, in the social sciences, socioeconomic status is often stated as a

determinant of Black identity.

In their 1987 study, Carter and Helms sought to determine if there was a

relationship between Afrocentric cultural values and racial identity attitudes in a sample

of 174 Black college students. Racial identity attitudes seemed to predict three of the five

measured Afrocentric values. There were also significant differences in participant

responses by gender. Although this study had at its heart a different focus than the

proposed project, it highlighted the complexity of cultural values in the Black community.

The authors pointed out a critical implication for therapy practice when they said,

"Racial identity attitudes and sex may be important places to begin the search for ways to

see the world through the client's eyes" (p. 194).

Racial identity development, or more specifically nigrescence, has been

extensively tested in relation to individual development and within a counseling setting.

However, there has been little focus on populations outside of the college campus. As

gerontology has long acknowledged, the individual continues to develop and mature past

young adulthood. Parham (1989a) called for an increase in research in other

developmental spheres to test the validity of the theory. "A Black person's frame of

reference is potentially influenced by his or her life stage and the developmental tasks

associated with that period of life" (p. 196), and, therefore, the utility of the model must

be examined with respect to all stages of the life course. Identity development will be

qualitatively different depending upon life cycle status. He firmly supported the view

that racial identity development continues long past late adolescence and early adulthood

as had been previously presented (Parham, 1989b).

Parham (1989a, 1989b) hypothesized the differences in racial identity based upon

life cycle process. He described middle adulthood as having a theme of

institutionalization. By this, he noted the affiliation with specific institutions in middle

adulthood (e.g., place of employment, church, civic organization) and suggested that this

would shape how one would experience each of the identity statuses. For older adults, a

theme of reflection in later life is also presented. This acknowledges various assumptions

related to older age (i.e., life review, adjustment to loss, and eventual mortality) and their

interface with the various racial identity statuses. For older African American adults

experiencing preencounter identity, Parham purported that they would measure their life

satisfaction or accomplishment based upon White ideals. That is, they might attribute

their successes and failures solely to their own efforts. They may also try to encourage

younger people to assimilate the dominant culture.

The encounter status may be triggered by the same life review process, but in this

case, the older adult feels anger or guilt regarding her or his adherence to the mores of the

dominant culture. The intensity of the encounter experience will in no way be decreased

as a function of the individual's age. The immersion-emersion racial identity status may

be marked by a strong urge to completely be absorbed into the African American culture.

Success and failure in life might be attributed solely to racism. The older adult may exhort

younger Black people to have pride in their racial heritage and eschew White culture. The

older adult who experiences the internalization identity status may have a sense of

satisfaction with her or his life. This status is characterized by less anxiety and by more

peace. She or he may attempt to impart their knowledge to younger people of all races

while still maintaining a strong African American identity. Parham (1989b) called to the

helping professions to help empirically support his descriptive addition to the racial

identity development theory.

These theoretical advances are very important in the conceptualization of the

racial identity development model. He purported that racial identity is constantly being

challenged, reshaped, and transformed over one's life span. Parham thus offered an

expansion of Cross' original nigrescence model to incorporate the notion that

continuously changing racial identity is also an inherent need in African American

persons. It is important for both clinicians and researchers to know how a person is

influenced by his/her race in later life.

Summary of Theoretical Persoectives

The relationship of each assumption in the life course theory to the rationale for

examining the impact of racial identity development on marital satisfaction in older

African American couples becomes clear. The idea that the dimension of time affects

individuals and families may also be seen in the temporal setting in which racial identity

development takes place. It is a process that does not happen all at once but is gradual

and unfolding. It also has an impact upon marital relationships for African Americans

because it takes into consideration how people are affected by their relationship to

culture and race.

Huyck (1995) made the point that a marital relationship involves social roles

which are impacted throughout the life course and life cycle--by individual lifetime events,

childbirth/retirement and also by historical time (e.g., changing women's roles). It then

becomes evident that the experiences of older African Americans would be affected by

their sociohistorical context. Life cycle theory has a direct link with Parham's (1989a,

1989b) supposition that life cycle status affects how one perceives his or her racial

identity development. The idea of recycling also seems to mesh with the more updated

versions of life cycle theory in that people have the potential to reexperience certain life


It becomes more evident that there exists a connection, a relationship, between the

theories that form a woven frame that supports the proposed research study. The

realization that the marriages of older adults exist both in their personal and familial life

cycles as well as the larger social environment facilitates the knowledge that the

generalizability of the study's findings will have to be interpreted with great care. The

application of the racial identity development theory is also a novelty for the older

population. The effect of the variables, age, gender, income level, and length of marriage,

is also yet to be seen. The extant literature makes it clear that the examination of the older

African American couple is the necessary next step in this branch of inquiry.

Summary of Literature Review

The literature that has been presented in this chapter forms a base from which to

better understand the present research project. The theoretical underpinning for the

study is based upon the notion that older adults experience certain events in the life cycle

and that they are affected by their personal and social environments and history. The

development of racial identity attitudes occurs across the lifespan and is impacted by

both current and past experiences. Marital satisfaction appears to increase over the


marital life span; therefore, the variables of age and length of marriage were expected to

impact marital satisfaction. Income level was also presumed to affect reactions to marital

life circumstance. Gender was expected to make a significant difference in the manner in

which men and women perceived their marriages. Additionally, it was hypothesized that,

in this study, the results would reveal that older African American couples will have

similar, or complementary, racial identity attitudes which will result in marriages that are

relatively satisfied.


This research project aimed to examine the nature of marital satisfaction and racial

identity development in older African American married couples and augment the extant

literature on this subject. Factors such as age, gender, length of marriage, income, and

educational level were explored relative to marital satisfaction and racial identity

development levels. This chapter describes the proposed methodology for data collection

and analysis. The pertinent variables, research hypotheses, sampling procedure, research

design, instrumentation, and projected methods of data collection and analysis are


Delineation of Relevant Variables

Dependent Variables

Two dependent variables were examined in this research study. Marital

satisfaction and racial identity development levels of older African American couples

were surveyed. Marital satisfaction is the level of relationship "contentedness" perceived

by the spousal partners and was assessed by the Marital Satisfaction Questionnaire for

Older Persons (Haynes, Floyd, Rogers, Winemiller, Heilman, Werle, Murphy, &

Cardone, 1992). Racial identity development refers to the manner in which a person

experiences his or her race in relation to self and others (Helms, 1993). The Black Racial

Identity Attitude Scale (Form RIAS-B) (Parham & Helms, 1981) was utilized to assess

this dependent variable.

Independent Variables

A total of four independent variables were selected for the present research study.

Age, length of marriage, income level, and gender were examined for their impact upon

marital satisfaction and racial identity development in African American couples. These

variables were chosen because of their support in the extant literature detailing the

influence of each in the lives of older married adults (Gilford, 1984; Huyck, 1995; Orbuch

et al., 1996; Tucker et al., 1993).

Research Hypotheses

The following null hypotheses were evaluated in this study:

Hol: There is no significant relationship between marital satisfaction and racial

identity in older African American couples.

Ho2: There is no significant relationship between marital satisfaction and age in

older African American couples.

Ho3: There is no significant relationship between marital satisfaction and length

of marriage of older African American couples.

Ho4: There is no significant relationship between marital satisfaction and income

in older African American couples.

Ho5: There is no significant relationship between racial identity and age in older

African American couples.

Ho6: There is no significant relationship between racial identity and length of

marriage in older African American couples.

Ho7: There is no significant relationship between racial identity and income level

in older African American couples.

Ho8: There are no significant mean differences between marital satisfaction and

gender in older African American couples.

Ho9: There are no significant mean differences between racial identity and gender

in older African American couples.

Research Design

This research project employed a correlational research design. According to Borg

and Gall (1989), this type of design is especially useful for education and behavioral

science research. This is because correlational studies enable the examination of the

relationships between a large number of variables within one project.

The proposed study utilized the correlational design in an attempt to ascertain

influences on marital satisfaction and racial identity development by a number of

independent variables such as age, sex, length of marriage, and income level. The design

also facilitated the description of the relationship between the dependent variables.


The population of this study was comprised of African American couples residing

in a small Southeastern city. The husbands and wives were at least 55 years of age

because African American persons tend to ascribe aging status to themselves at a

relatively early chronological age (Jackson, 1972; Tate, 1983). It is also well documented

that African American individuals have shorter life expectancies than members of the

dominant culture (Edmonds, 1993; Kart; 1994). Some couples were involved in their

second marriage. The participants were recruited from churches, fraternal organizations,

community agencies, volunteer organizations (e.g., RSVP, Foster Grandparents), and

personal contacts.

Sample and Sampline Procedures

Participants in this study were older African American marital dyads. Extant

research (Acitelli & Antonucci, 1994) indicated that the ability to link the responses of

husbands and wives on measures of marital satisfaction was needed for a more complete

picture of the marriage. For inclusion in the project, these individuals needed to be at

least 55 years of age, a member of a married couple, and racially consider themselves

members of the Black community. Participants were recruited through a wide range of

resources. Churches, volunteer agencies (e.g., Foster Grandparents, Retired Senior

Volunteer Program) and public libraries in Alachua, Duval, Indian River and Palm Beach

Counties were contacted. The researcher first established contact with a member of the

organization to request his or her assistance in identifying potential participants for the


This role of cultural "mediator" or "liaison" (Wood, 1989) was critical for

involving this population of older couples. The mediator or liaison was a contact person

of the agency or organization who was known and respected by members of the older

Black community. These people provided the introductions between the researcher and

the potential participants and offered their support to the proposed project. These

individuals were able to provide a sense of legitimacy and safety to the research project

which was critical in facilitating participation levels.

The author contacted the members of these organizations to explain the purpose

of the study and the importance of the older Black volunteers. Meetings were then set up

to introduce the "cultural mediator" to the assessment instruments and to further acquaint

him or her with the research project goals and procedures. They received copies of the

packet that was administered to the older African American couples which consisted of

the cover letter and release form, the Martial Satisfaction Questionnaire for Older Persons

(MSQFOP), the Black Racial Identity Attitude Scale (RIAS-B), and the Personal data


After receiving names of the members of churches or local organizations who fit

the participant profile, the author requested that they meet at a central location (e.g.,

church hall or recreation room) so that they could be administered the packet of materials

consisting of the cover letter and release form, the assessment instruments, and personal

data sheet. The couples also were directed to work independently of one another. Upon

completion of the materials, all study participants had the option of returning an

anonymous request for a debriefing sheet that outlined the goals, hypotheses, and

research results of the project. These data were collected in the winter of 1998 after

receiving permission from the University of Florida Human Subjects Institutional Review



Two standardized questionnaires were utilized for data collection. A personal

data sheet was also distributed.

Marital Satisfaction Questionnaire for Older Persons

The primary instrumentation for the study was the Marital Satisfaction

Questionnaire for Older Persons (MSQFOP). This assessment tool was developed

specifically for use with an older population and utilizes some of the same domains as

other marital satisfaction inventories but includes items specific to older age (e.g., health

assessment of spouse) and omits items more pertinent to child-rearing.

The MSQFOP was developed as a result of a 4-year study that had at its aim the

construction of a valid marital assessment tool that was appropriate for older individuals.

The final result was a 24-item marital satisfaction questionnaire. Twenty items directly

assess "specific areas of marital distress" which generate a "marital satisfaction scale

score" (Haynes et al., 1992, p. 474). The final four items examine the respondent's global

satisfaction with the marriage and his or her perception of changes over time.

The MSQFOP has been found to have satisfactory reliability and validity. The

test-retest Pearson correlation for the Marital Satisfaction Questionnaire For Older

Persons scale was .84. According to the authors, the test-retest correlations for individual

items ranged from .70 to .93. This assessment tool was also evaluated for its criterion-

related validity with a well established measure of marital satisfaction--the Locke-Wallace

Marital Adjustment Test. The correlation between the two instruments was .82

(p<.001). Construct validity was evaluated by "estimating the shared variance between

the MSQFOP and two other variables with which [it] would be expected to be

moderately correlated: (a) life satisfaction and (b) spouse reports of pleasing and

displeasing behaviors displayed at home" (Haynes et al, 1992). These constructs were to

be measured with the Satisfaction with Life Scale and the Spouse Observation Checklist.

The results proved that there is a high correlation between the MSQFOP and the Life

Satisfaction Scale as well as a significant association with the Spouse Observation


A factor analysis was also performed on the MSQFOP, and it was determined

that three factors were responsible for 69% of the variance in spouse's scores. The three

factors were Communication/Companionship (accounted for 58% of variance).

Sex/Affection (accounted for 6% of variance), and Health (accounted for 5% of score


Black Racial Identity Attitude Scale (Form RIAS-B)

This is an attitudinal scale which assesses an individual's racial identity stage or

status (e.g., Preencounter, Encounter, Immersion/Emersion, and Internalization). The

scale is comprised of 30 items which utilizes a 5-point Likert scale to assess individuals'

racial identity attitudes. Scores for each status, or stage, are obtained by adding the

responses to correspondingly keyed items. Each participant then has a subscale score for

each type of racial identity attitude. Internal consistency reliability estimates for these

subscales are as follows: Preencounter = .69, Encounter = .72, Immersion/Emersion =

.66, and Internalization = .71 (Helms, 1993). A factor analysis was also used to

illustrate the relationship between the assessment items and the types of racial identity


Personal Data Sheet

A personal data sheet was distributed to all respondents to assess their individual

characteristics. Participants were asked to provide information regarding their age. sex,

length of marriage, educational level, and income level.

Data Collection and Data Analyses

The data were collected by the principal researcher of this research project.

"Cultural mediators" were contacted for introductions to potential study participants.

The researcher then screened the older couples for their involvement in the study based

upon their age, race, and marital status. Couples who were deemed suitable for inclusion

in the study were administered the personal data sheet, the Marital Satisfaction

Questionnaire for Older Persons, and the Black Racial Identity Attitude Scale.

Upon completion of data collection, data analyses were performed utilizing

multiple regressions for the first seven hypotheses with the means for the couples.

Dependent t-tests were then used to analyze the final two hypotheses that examined the

relationship of gender to marital satisfaction and racial identity development in older

African American couples. Pearson product-moment correlations were also calculated to

examine the relationships among the variables.

Limitations of Agina Research

The tradition of empirical inquiry has been the norm in the field of gerontology

since its inception (Kart, 1994); however, the challenge of conducting research with older

populations, and in particular older persons of color, cannot be overlooked.

Methodological concerns that can arise in conducting research with members of the older

population relate to the overutilization of cross-sectional studies, sampling, and

age/period/cohort problems (Kart, 1994; Levenson et al., 1993). The present study

utilized a cross-sectional design. This presented a problem when focusing on long-term

marriages, as there was no provision of historical context or developmental nature. For

example, perhaps only couples with satisfactory relationships managed to remain in long-

term marriages and the unhappy couples separated or divorced (Levenson et al., 1993).

Longitudinal studies, however, are time-consuming and costly, and this precludes many

researchers from undertaking such an endeavor.

The issue of generalizability must be considered when analyzing the results of

research findings in this area. The manner in which investigators obtain samples is called

into question when volunteerism is the primary method (Atchley, 1992). Volunteers for

a study on marital satisfaction may be those couples that are more satisfied with their

relationships. Those who are not happily married may choose not to participate in such

a study. Although the participants for the proposed research study were volunteers, the

difficulty in obtaining study respondents who were members of minority groups

contributed to the validity of the project.

The age/period/cohort problem is aptly named by gerontological researchers. Kart

(1994) described the interaction of these factors and how "groups of researchers came to

realize the importance of conceptually distinguishing among maturational factors (age).

biographical factors (cohort), and environmental factors (period of measurement). This

realization is now fundamental to all research on matters of the life course" (p. 38). For

example, when studying older Black couples who are sharing perceptions of their married

life, the question of social desirability is a consideration. The influence of the nature of

the research on this cohort of people who traditionally eschew divorce or separation is a

factor when interpreting results.

Acknowledgment of the potential shortcomings of any study is sound research

behavior. However, addressing these concerns facilitates an increased understanding of

the need and the appropriateness of the present research. This study suggests an

examination of an understudied population--older African American couples. The data

generated by this investigation may provide an important stepping stone to future

researchers in this area.

It is hoped that the results of the study will assist clinicians and educators with

furthering their understanding of the needs of an older minority group population.

Clinicians are likely to encounter increasing numbers of older adults, including African

Americans, and the particular needs and life circumstances of older people must be

adequately addressed.


The purpose of this study was to increase the understanding of later life

relationships for older African American couples by examining the levels of marital

satisfaction and racial identity within a sample. Additionally, the study examined the

impact of independent variables such as age, length of marriage, and income level on

marital satisfaction and racial identity.

Data were completed on 46 married African American couples. Each participant

was at least 55 years of age. The couples who took part in the study were recruited

through churches, senior organizations, and personal contacts.

Data analysis results are presented in this chapter and include descriptive

statistics of participant characteristics, inferential statistical analyses of the research

hypotheses, and a summary of the research findings.

Descriptive Information of the Participants

Descriptions of the participants' age and length of marriage are presented in Table

2. In Table 3 the educational background of the survey respondents is illustrated, and in

Table 4 the income information for the participants is presented. The respondents'

scores on the Marital Satisfaction Questionnaire for Older Persons are presented in Table

5. Scores for the Black Racial Identity Attitude Scale are presented in Table 6. Pearson

product-moment correlation coefficients are reported in Table 7.

Table 2

Demographic Information for the Sample by Age and Leneth of Marriage

Category N Mean Standard Deviation

Male Spouse 46 67.50 8.25
Female Spouse 46 65.41 7.35
All Couples 46 66.45 7.33

Length of Marriage
All couples 46 39.72 13.52

Ag. Forty-six married African American couples participated in this research

project. Participants' ages ranged from 55 to 91. The mean age for all of the respondents

was 66.5 years of age. The males' ages ranged from 55 to 91 year of age. Their mean age

was 67.5. The females' ages ranged from 55 to 82 years old and their mean age was 65.4.

Length of marriage. The length of marriage for the couples in the study varied

widely; however, the average length of marriage for the couples was 39.7 years with a

standard deviation of 13.52 years.

Educational level. Most of the participants had a high school or college education.

The educational status for the couples was based upon the higher reported level of the

pair (Table 3). One couple (2.2%) reported an elementary school education as the highest

Table 3

Participants' Educational Level

Category Frequency %

Elementary School 3 7
Junior High School 4 9.3
High School 10 23.3
Some College 9 20.9
College Degree 10 23.3
Advanced Degree 7 16.3

Elementary School 2 4.4
Junior High School 4 8.9
High School 7 15.6
Some College 14 31.1
College Degree 6 13.3
Advanced Degree 12 26.7

All Couples
Elementary School 1 2.2
Junior High School 2 4.3
High School 5 10.9
Some College 14 30.4
College Degree 10 21.7
Advanced Degree 14 30.4

combined level of educational attainment. Two couples (4.3%) stated that junior high

school was their highest educational level, and five couples (10.9%) had a high school

diploma as the highest formal learning experience. Fourteen couples (30.4%) had some

college experience; 10 couples (21.7%) reported earning a college degree as the higher

educational level; and 14 couples (30.4%) had received an advanced degree. Three men

and one woman declined to give information related to their educational level.

For the males in the study, three (7%) reported having an elementary school

education and four men (9.3%) had a junior high education. Ten male participants had a

high school diploma (23.3%); 9 (20.9%) had some college education; and 10 (23.3%) had a

college degree. Seven of the men (16.3%) had an advanced degree.

The females who participated in the research project had a higher level of

educational attainment than the males. Only two female participants (4.4%) had an

elementary school education, and four women (8.9%) had a junior high school education.

Seven female respondents (15.6%) had a high school diploma while 14 women (31.1%)

reported having some collegiate experience. Six women (13.3%) had completed a college

degree, and 12 women (26.7) had earned at least one advanced degree.

Income status. Most couples reported a relatively high level of income (Table 4).

The mean income level for the couples took into consideration that some spouses

reported different amounts of their household income. Seven individuals did not report an

income level. Four couples (10.3%) reported an income of less than $10,000. One couple

(2.6%) reported one spouse as having an income between $10,000 and $19,999 while the

other reported an income between $20,000 and $29, 000. Eight couples (20.5%)

responded that their household income ranged from $20,000 to $29,000. Three couples

(7.7%) reported that one of the spouses had an income between $20,000 and $29,000

while the other spouse's income was $30,000+. Finally, 22 couples (56.4%) reported

that their household income exceeded $30,000.

Table 4

Participants' Income Status

Category Frequency %

All Couples

0-$9,999 4 10.3

$10,000-$19,999/ 1 2.6

$20,000-$29,999 8 20.5

$20,000-$29,000/ 3 7.7
$30,000+ *

$30,000+ 22 56.4

*Denotes two different income levels reported by each spouse.

Marital Satisfaction Ouestionnaire for Older Persons (MSOFOP). For the

purposes of this study, marital satisfaction was defined as "the sense of well-being,

contentment, and overall good feeling, including camaraderie, affection and safety"

(Kaslow & Hammerschmidt, p. 21, 1992). It was assessed by measuring the total score

of 20 statements using a 6-point Likert scale (1= very dissatisfied to 6=very satisfied)

(Table 5). Therefore, out of a possible 120 points, the mean score for the couples was

91.77 (with a range between 34 to 120) with a standard deviation of 15.17. The mean

score for the males was 92.78 with a standard deviation of 13.76. The females' mean

marital satisfaction score was 90.76 with a standard deviation of 20.18.

Table 5

Participants' Scores on the Marital Satisfaction Ouestionnaire for Older Persons

Category N Mean Scorea Standard Deviation

Males 46 4.63 0.68
Females 46 4.53 1.00
All Couples 46 4.58 0.75

aOn a 6-point scale, l=very dissatisfied, 6=very satisfied.

The degree of marital satisfaction was also calculated by dividing each score on

this measurement by the total number of items (20). As a result, the husbands in the

sample scored 4.63 (between "somewhat satisfied" and "satisfied") with a standard

deviation of 0.68. The wives in the study had similar scores of 4.53 which also fell

midway between "somewhat satisfied" and "satisfied" and had a standard deviation of

1.00. The mean marital satisfaction score for all the couples was 4.58 (standard deviation

0.75) which again fell between the same parameters.

Black Racial Identity Attitude Scale (Form RIAS-B). Helms (1993) purported

that the stages, or statuses, that African American individuals experience during the

course of their lifetimes can be quantitatively measured (Table 6). The stages of racial

identity development are as follows: Preencounter, Encounter, Immersion/Emersion, and

Internalization. In successive order, the stages describe the passage of the individual from

immersion in the dominant culture (Preencounter stage), to conflict over the increasing


awareness of one's Black identity (Encounter stage), then complete identification with all

things African American to the exclusion of other perspectives (Immersion/Emersion

stage) to, finally, an integration of a variety of worldviews which included a celebration of

the Afrocentric view (Internalization stage). The RIAS-B purported to measure the

attitudes associated with each of the identity development stages.

Table 6

Participants' Scores on the Subscales of the Black Racial Identity Scale
(Form RIAS-B)

Category Mean Scorea Standard Deviation

Preencounter 1.96 0.57
Encounter 2.43 0.67
Immersion/Emersion 2.48 0.51
Internalization 3.72 0.38

Preencounter 1.85 0.46
Encounter 2.27 0.70
Immersion/Emersion 2.39 0.45
Internalization 3.74 0.44

All couples
Preencounter 1.82 0.38
Encounter 2.33 0.58
Immersion/Emersion 2.43 0.40
Internalization 3.69 0.36

aOn a 5-point scale, 1 = strongly disagree, 3 = uncertain, 5 = strongly agree.

Therefore, racial identity attitudes were assessed by computing scores for the

measure's four subscales. Each item was measured using a 5-point Likert scale (1 =

strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). The subscales were worth, respectively, 45

points (Preencounter), 15 points (Encounter), 40 points (Immersion/Emersion), and 40

points (Internalization). Total scores were generated and then divided by the number of

items on each subscale. The mean score for the couples on the Preencounter subscale was

16.45 with a standard deviation of 3.46. The males' mean score was 17.68 with a

standard deviation of 5.15. The women's mean score on the Preencounter subscale was

16.65 with a standard deviation of 4.22. This subscale contained nine items which

provided the following scores: The mean couple score was 1.82 with a standard deviation

of 0.38; the mean score for the males was 1.96 with a standard deviation of 0.57; and the

women had an average score of 1.85 with a standard deviation of 0.46. These scores

indicated disagreement with statements that assessed Eurocentric values and worldview or

eschewed identification with African American culture.

For the Encounter subscale, the couples' mean score was 7.0 with a standard

deviation of 1.74. The men had a mean score of 7.30 (standard deviation 2.03) and the

women had a mean score of 6.81 (standard deviation 2.12) on the Encounter subscale.

Three items measured the Encounter attitudes. Dividing the total scores by the number of

items produced a mean couple score of 2.33 with a standard deviation of 0.58 and a mean

score for the men of 2.43 with a standard deviation of 0.67. The women had an overall

score of 2.27 with a standard deviation of 0.70. The participants' scores indicated

disagreement with the statements that measured conflict between Afrocentric and

Eurocentric worldviews.

The mean score for the couples on the seven-item Immersion/Emersion subscale

was 17.01 with a standard deviation of 2.85. The male participants had a mean score of

17.41 with a standard deviation of 3.59, and the female participants had a mean score of

16.74 with a standard deviation of 3.20. Further calculations showed the couples to have

a mean score of 2.43 (standard deviation 0.40) while the men's mean score was 2.48

(standard deviation 0.51) and the women's mean score was 2.39 (standard deviation

0.45). Again, all the scores that were reported disagreement with statements that

measured attitudes of complete immersion and idealization of African American people

and culture.

The final subscale, Internalization, had a couple mean score of 33.25 with a

standard deviation of 3.25. The men's mean score on the Internalization subscale was

33.54 with a standard deviation of 3.42. The women had a mean score of 33.71 with a

standard deviation of 4.00. The Internalization subscale contained nine items. As a result

of again dividing the total score by the number of items, the average score for the couples

was 3.69 with a standard deviation of 0.36. The mean for the male participants was 3.72

with a standard deviation of 0.38, and the mean for the female participants was 3.74 with

a standard deviation of 0.44. These scores indicated that all participants viewed

themselves as being between "uncertain" and "agree" on statements measuring an

integrated world view that celebrated African heritage and an Afrocentric worldview while

also supporting the beliefs and values of other racial and ethnic groups.

Correlation Analysis

Pearson product-moment correlations were calculated for all of the measures that

were surveyed and the results are displayed in Table 7. The only relationship to have a

significantly strong correlation was the negative relationship between the Preencounter

subscale of racial identity and marital satisfaction (r =- 0.77, p < .0001). This indicated

that couples who had a higher score on the preencounter subscale of the racial identity

attitude scale had lower levels of marital satisfaction. Therefore, couples who had a

stronger identification with Eurocentric values and perspectives tended to report less

satisfactory marital relationships.

Table 7

Pearson Product Moment Correlations Between Independent and Dependent Variables
Reporting only Significant Correlates


PRE -0.77
ENC -0.43 0.38
INT -0.39
AGE 0.31*
YRS 0.35
INC -0.47

Note. MS = Marital Satisfaction, PRE = Preencounter, ENC = Encounter, IM=
Immersion/Emersion, INT = Intemalization.
* < .07
2 < .05

Moderate negative correlations were observed between a number of items.

Participants' scores on the Encounter subscale of racial identity were negatively

correlated with marital satisfaction (r = -0.43, p < .01) which indicated that couples

whose scores reflected conflict between African American experiences and values and that

of the dominant culture had lower marital satisfaction scores. Another negative

correlation was found between the respondents' scores on the Preencounter subscale and

the Internalization subscales of racial identity (r = -0.39, p < .05). This was interpreted

as couples who did not identify with African American culture did not have more

integrated world views as represented by the Internalization score. Finally, the last

negative correlation was noted between the participants' age and income level (r = -0.47,

p <.01). Therefore, the oldest couples in the sample seemed to have lower income levels.

Moderate positive correlations were observed between the Preencounter subscale

(measure of Eurocentric dominated viewpoint) and Encounter subscale (measure of

conflict between identification with dominant culture and increasing awareness of Black

identity) (r = 0.38, p < .05). This indicated that couples who did not identify as strongly

with African American people and culture also experienced conflict between the two

viewpoints. The modest positive correlation between length of marriage and age (r =

0.35, p < .01) indicated, not surprisingly, that the couples married for the longest periods

of times tended to be the older couples in the sample.

Although it did not meet the criteria for p < .05, the age of participants and their

scores on the Preencounter subscale of the racial identity scale (r = 0.31, p < .07) was of

interest because it denoted that the participants who were older seemed more likely to

have higher levels of a Eurocentric orientation.

Statistical Results of the Research Hypotheses

The findings related to each of the nine research questions are presented. To test

Hypotheses 1 through 7, a series of multiple regressions were performed. Dependent t-

tests were utilized for Hypotheses 8 and 9 because these questions examined the mean

differences between gender in the sample of older couples.

Hypotheses 1. 2. 3. and 4

The data analysis procedure for the first four hypotheses was a multiple

regression equation. The four hypotheses were as follows:

Hypothesis 1 stated that there is no significant relationship between marital

satisfaction and racial identity in older African American couples.

Hypothesis 2 stated that there is no significant relationship between marital

satisfaction and age in older African American couples.

Hypothesis 3 stated that there is no significant relationship between marital

satisfaction and length of marriage of older African American couples.

Hypothesis 4 stated that there is no significant relationship between marital

satisfaction and income in older African American couples.

Table 8 presents the regression analysis for the factors affecting marital

satisfaction in older African American couples. Results of the regression analysis

indicated that the variables accounted for 67% of the variance. The only significant effect

was the negative impact on marital satisfaction of couples who identified with the

Preencounter status of racial identity which indicates an Eurocentric worldview and

beliefs. Couples who experienced a 1 point increase on the Preencounter measures

experienced a 2.5 point decrease on their marital satisfaction score. The couples in the

study who scored higher on the Preencounter scale tended to score lower on the

measure of marital satisfaction. No significant relationships were found between

marital satisfaction and age, length of marriage, or income in older African American


Table 8

Multiple Regression Analysis of Marital Satisfaction by Racial Identity Level. Age.
Length of Marriage. and Income

Variable Parameter Standard t p
Estimate Error

Preencounter status -2.45 0.99 -2.46 0.03
Encounter status -3.49 1.90 -1.83 0.09
Immersion/emersion status 0.41 0.90 0.45 0.65
Internalization status 0.83 0.88 0.94 0.36
Age 0.15 0.41 0.36 0.72
Length of Marriage -0.15 0.28 -0.54 0.59
Income Level -1.09 3.44 -0.31 0.75

p < .05, r2 = .67

Hypotheses 5. 6. and 7

The data analysis procedure that was utilized for Hypotheses 5, 6, and 7 was also

the multiple regression equation. The stated hypotheses were as follows:

Hypothesis 5 stated that there is no significant relationship between racial

identity and age in older African American couples.

Hypothesis 6 stated that there is no significant relationship between racial

identity and length of marriage of older African American couples

Hypothesis 7 stated that there is no significant relationship between racial

identity and income in older African American couples.

Tables 9 through 12 present the regression analysis for the factors affecting racial

identity in older African American couples. Results of the regression analysis indicated

that there were no significant effects for these analyses. Therefore, there appears to be no

significant relationship between racial identity and age, length of marriage, or income level

in older African American couples.

Table 9

Multiple Regression Analysis of the Preencounter Subscale by Age. Length of Marriage.
and Income

Variable Parameter Standard t p
Estimate Error

Age 0.23 0.13 1.74 0.09
Length of Marriage -0.05 0.07 -0.78 0.44
Income Level 0.68 1.07 0.64 0.52

S<.05, r2 = .13

Table 10

Multiple Regression Analysis of the Encounter Subscale by Age. Length of Marriage, and

Variable Parameter Standard t p
Estimate Error

Age 0.03 0.05 0.73 0.46
Length of Marriage -0.01 0.02 -0.78 0.43
Income Level -0.24 0.40 -0.59 0.55

p < .05, r2 = .08

Table 11

Multiple Regression Analysis of the Immersion/Emersion Subscale by Age. Length of
Marriage. and Income

Variable Parameter Standard t p
Estimate Error

Age -0.01 0.10 -0.18 0.85
Length of Marriage 0.00 0.04 0.04 0.96
Income Level -0.41 0.91 -0.45 0.65

p < .05, r2 = .01

Table 12

Multiple Regression Analysis of the Internalization Subscale by Age. Length of Marriage.
and Income

Variable Parameter Standard t p
Estimate Error

Age -0.03 0.12 -0.28 0.77
Length of Marriage -0.01 0.07 -0.19 0.84
Income Level -1.17 0.86 -1.35 0.19

1 <.05, r2 = .09

Hypotheses 8 and 9

These hypotheses utilized dependent t-tests because the research questions

specified an examination ofintra-couple differences by gender (Table 13). The stated

hypotheses were as follow:

Hypothesis 8 stated that there is no significant mean differences between males

and females on marital satisfaction in older African American couples.

Hypothesis 9 stated that there is no significant mean differences between males

and females on racial identity in older African American couples.

After performing the dependent t-tests, no significant differences were found to

indicate that there was a difference by gender on scores of marital satisfaction and racial

identity. The men and women who participated in this research project appeared to vary

little in their responses on both the marital satisfaction and the racial identity attitude

assessment instruments.

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