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THE IMPACT OF RACIAL IDENTITY STATUS ON MARITAL SATISFACTION
IN OLDER AFRICAN AMERICAN COUPLES
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
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.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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
C MARITAL SATISFACTION FOR OLDER PERSONS
QUESTIONNAIRE ................ ........................ 109
D BLACK RACIAL IDENTITY ATTITUDE SCALE (FORM B) .......... 113
REFERENCES ....................................................... 118
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................ ......................... 129
LIST OF TABLES
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
THE IMPACT OF RACIAL IDENTITY STATUS ON MARITAL SATISFACTION
IN OLDER AFRICAN AMERICAN COUPLES
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
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
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
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
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.
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 &
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
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
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
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
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
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
participants' growth is
Crossed 1. Preencounter 2. Immersion Most conflicted
Characterized by fear,
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Participants' Income Status
Category Frequency %
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+ 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.
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.
Participants' Scores on the Subscales of the Black Racial Identity Scale
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
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
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
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.
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.
Pearson Product Moment Correlations Between Independent and Dependent Variables
Reporting only Significant Correlates
MS PRE ENC IM INT AGE YRS INC
ENC -0.43 0.38
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
Multiple Regression Analysis of Marital Satisfaction by Racial Identity Level. Age.
Length of Marriage. and Income
Variable Parameter Standard t p
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.
Multiple Regression Analysis of the Preencounter Subscale by Age. Length of Marriage.
Variable Parameter Standard t p
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
Multiple Regression Analysis of the Encounter Subscale by Age. Length of Marriage, and
Variable Parameter Standard t p
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
Multiple Regression Analysis of the Immersion/Emersion Subscale by Age. Length of
Marriage. and Income
Variable Parameter Standard t p
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
Multiple Regression Analysis of the Internalization Subscale by Age. Length of Marriage.
Variable Parameter Standard t p
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
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