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1 COPING WITH PROBLEMS: AN EXAMINATION OF R ELIGIOUS AND RACIAL MEANING MAKING IN LATER LIFE By MELISSA BAMBA A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2008
2 2008 Melissa Bamba
3 To my sister-friends, Grace, La rissa and Rachel, who gently pus hed me toward my destiny. I would not have been able to complete this wi thout the love and support of good friends. Much love to my spiritual brothers David and Robbie who remind me that inte grity and character are possible even within the belly of the beast. And to Jesus, my best friend, who reminds me that, In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to my supervisory committee, Monika Ardelt, Susan Bluck and Milagros Pena. I would also like to thank Terry Mills who served on my committee until he left the University of Florida. You have all, in unique ways, encouraged me along my way and modeled what it means to be a university scholar. I am very thankful to Dr. Ardelt for always providing a safe harbor from th e storms of graduate study. Thanks also to Merrie Davidson of the UF Library; the joy with which you do your work is contagious. The front office staff of the Sociology Department, Nadine, Donna and Melisa, have been a source of support, timely information and good humor; tha nks to all of you! Many, many thanks to the staff of the National Science Foundation Atlant ic Coast Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (AC-SBE) Alliance Fellowship at UF. Thanks especially to Donna Jackson whose patience and kindness made it possible for me to do some of the hard-knocks work that breathes life into dreams. I also owe a debt of grat itude to Dr. Hernan Ve ra who emphasized how important it is to tap into the wisdom of elders. Last, but not least, thanks Mommy, Larry, Malcolm, Allen, Howard, Carnell, Maria, Devon, Kurtis, Chimera, Kenny, Donnie and all my peeps Up North. Holla!
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...............................................................................................................4 LIST OF TABLES................................................................................................................. ..........8 LIST OF FIGURES.........................................................................................................................9 ABSTRACT...................................................................................................................................10 CHAP TER 1 INTRODUCTION..................................................................................................................12 Problem Statement.............................................................................................................. ....12 Conceptual Framework........................................................................................................... 13 Key Concepts and Definitions................................................................................................ 13 Research Questions............................................................................................................. ....15 Data and Methods...................................................................................................................15 2 LITERATURE REVIEW.......................................................................................................17 Stress in Later Life........................................................................................................... .......17 U.S. Aging Trends........................................................................................................... 17 Sources of Stress in Later Life........................................................................................ 18 Maintenance of social roles and networks............................................................... 20 Physical health..........................................................................................................23 Psychological health................................................................................................. 25 Macrosocial stressors...............................................................................................28 Religion, Meaning Making and Coping in Later Life............................................................38 Religiosity in the U.S...................................................................................................... 38 Scientific Interest in Reli gion and Coping in Later Life .................................................39 Religion, Spirituality, Wisdom and Coping in Later Life ............................................... 39 Race, Religiosity and Religious Coping.......................................................................... 43 Racial Identity, Meaning Making and Coping in Later Life.................................................. 48 Summary of Extant Literature................................................................................................ 53 Conceptual Framework: Coping and Meaning Making......................................................... 54 Coping and Stress............................................................................................................ 54 Meaning Making Coping.................................................................................................55 Limitations of the Extant Literature....................................................................................... 58 Methodological Limitations............................................................................................ 58 Theoretical Limitations................................................................................................... 58
6 3 METHODOLOGY................................................................................................................. 62 Study Overview................................................................................................................. .....62 Sample Data............................................................................................................................62 Method of Analysis.................................................................................................................66 4 FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION........................................................................................... 75 What Problems Do Elders Say They Have Experienced In Lif e?.......................................... 75 How Unpleasant or Problematic Events are Discussed................................................... 76 Number and Nature of Problems.....................................................................................79 Recalling Problems in Life..............................................................................................80 Problems and Religiosity................................................................................................. 81 Problems and Wisdom Score........................................................................................... 82 Gender and Problems in Life........................................................................................... 82 Marital Status and Problems in Life................................................................................ 83 Socioeconomic Status, Education Level and Problems in Life....................................... 84 Race and Problems in Life..............................................................................................86 Age and Problems in Life................................................................................................ 87 Why Werent Problems Associated With Aging Mentioned More?............................... 87 Conclusion: Problems Elde rs Experience in Life ............................................................88 How do Elders Say That They Have Coped with Problems in Life?..................................... 89 Philosophical or Introspective Coping............................................................................90 Pragmatic, Practical or Planful Coping........................................................................... 94 Help-seeking, Collaborative or Cooperative Coping ...................................................... 96 Negative, Selfor Othe r-Destructive Coping .................................................................. 98 Coping Alone.................................................................................................................100 Conclusion: How do Elders Cope with Problem s in Life?............................................ 102 What Religious or Racial Meaning Making Coping Process Have Elders Adopted to Cope with Problem s in Life?............................................................................................ 102 Religious Meaning Making...........................................................................................102 Faith and Dependence on the Promises and Provisions of God.................................... 103 Engaging Religion, Church Support and Partaking in Religio us Activities ................. 107 Religious Belief, Death and the Afterlife...................................................................... 108 Conclusion: How Elders Talk about Religion ............................................................... 110 Racial Meaning Making................................................................................................111 Morality, Fairness and Justice....................................................................................... 114 Religious Faith and Racial Frustration..........................................................................115 Self-Segregation, Separation and Racial Socialization................................................. 117 Conclusion: How Elders Talk About Race................................................................... 119 5 CONCLUSION..................................................................................................................... 125 Summary of Emergent Themes............................................................................................ 126 Study Limitations and Suggesti ons f or Future Research...................................................... 128 APPENDIX INTERVIEW QUESTIONS............................................................................... 130
7 LIST OF REFERENCES.............................................................................................................131 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.......................................................................................................142
8 LIST OF TABLES Table page 3-1 African-American sample (n = 7)...................................................................................... 72 3-2 White-American sample (n = 9)........................................................................................73 3-3 Interview information...................................................................................................... ..74 4-1 Number of problems coded per interviewee: African Am ericans................................... 121 4-2 Number of problems coded per interviewee: White Americans...................................... 122 4-3 Problems elders experience in later life........................................................................... 123
9 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 2-1 Meaning making model of coping. (Park 2005, p. 709).................................................... 61
10 Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts COPING WITH PROBLEMS: AN EXAMINATION OF RELI GIOUS AND RACIAL MEANING MAKING IN LATER LIFE By Melissa Bamba May 2008 Chair: Monika Ardelt Major: Sociology Aging is stressful. For some populations, lik e elder minorities, soci oeconomic disparities and racism, experienced over a lifetime, combine with normative, age-rela ted changes to make later life a time of both acute and chronic stress. Whether the life event or circumstance is a change in health status, death of ones spouse or close friends, or reduced fi nances, in the U.S. as people age they will inevitably experience st ress. Cognitive coping models allow for an examination of the role of meaning making syst ems in how elders cope with stress. This analysis explores the role of two significant meaning making systems in coping with problems in life: religion and racial identit y. Using data from a convenience sample of 16 semi-structured interviews with elders residing in the Southeastern United States where elders were asked to recall unpleasant events th at occurred in the previous week, month, year and their entire life, I was able to explore how African and white-Ame ricans elders, age 55 to 82 years old, graft meaning onto problems and crises in life through their coping responses to stress. Three questions guide this analysis: (1) what problems do elders say they have experienced in life? (2) how do elders say that they have coped with prob lems in life? (3) what religious and/or racial meaning making coping process have elders ad opted to cope with problems in life?
11 The interview data were explored using the grounded theory method. Findings indicate that: elders are somewhat reluctant to talk a bout unpleasant events; this demonstrates elders sense of the precariousness of older age, their need to do impression management, and a belief that entertaining negative thoughts spoils self-ima ge and shows a lack of thankfulness. Women discussed more spousal deaths, family, financial, health and psychological problems than men. Unmarried elders discussed more illnesses, psychological, and family problems than married elders. Paired religiosity scores and age showed no clear differences in the number or nature of problems discussed by elders. White, high SES a nd educated elders discussed more problems overall, but those problem differed little from low SES and lesser educated elders. The choice of coping response is shaped by epistemological, ma terial, structural, contextual and problem-specific factors. Five ge neral coping strategies emerged from the data: (1) philosophical or introspectiv e coping; (2) pragmatic, practical or planful coping; (3) helpseeking, collaborative or cooperative coping; (4) negative, selfor other-destructive coping; and (5) coping alone. Elders used religious meaning making to cope with problems in life in three ways: (1) through faith and depe ndence on the promises and provi sions of God; (2) by engaging religion, the support of the church and partaking in religious ac tivities; and (3 ) by relying on beliefs about the impermanency of life, the nature of death and the afterlife. Racial meaning making was found least often in the interview data and wa s only discussed by African Americans. Three racial coping themes emerged that stressed: (1) morality, fairness and justice; (2) religious faith and racial frustration; and (3) self-seg regation, separation and racial socialization, in coping with probl ems in life. In the future, rese archers might want to focus their analyses of meaning making coping on one par ticular problem and meaning making system among a well-defined group of elders. Much work remains to be done.
12 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Problem Statement As people age they in evitably experience stress. Whether the stress is associated with the transition out of full-time parenting for late middl e-aged adults (i.e., the empty nest syndrome), poor health for those in old age, or the deat hs of loved ones among the oldest old, aging is stressful. A few statistics help to illustrate the significance of stress in later life: parental bereavement is a problem adults in midlife contend with: by age 55, half of all adults have lost both parents (P apalia, Camp, & Feldman, 1996). elders 65 and older have the hi ghest rate of suicide of a ny age group: in 2001 one elder killed himself every 97 minutes (Conwell, 2001); depression is the most common mental health problem among the elderly age 65 and older. Estimates are that upwards of 20% of elders living in the community report depressive symptoms (Cummings, Neff, & Husaini, 2003; Roff, et al., 2004); one-third of elder alcoholics, age 65 and older, are late onset drinkers who drink in response to stress and family loss (Ameri can Psychological Associ ation [APA], 1998; Barnea & Teichman, 1994); in 2001 approximately 50% of elder women ag e 65 and older were widows 4 times the number of widowers (Administration on Ag ing [AOA], 2002). Further, 15-25% of surviving spouses have problems with long-term bereavement (Lund, 1993). For African Americans in later life, aging is sometimes accompanied by both an accumulation (i.e., over a lifetime) and acceleration (i.e., sudden onset) of stressful life events (Bachman & Chase-Lansdale, 2005). Novak (2006) reports that African-American elders have higher rates of arthritis, hypertensi on, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer than white elders. Loss associated with poor health and diminished physic al abilities, coupled w ith life-long disparities in social and economic resources (Barrett, 2003; Pearlin, 1989; Pearlin, Schieman, Fazio, & Meersman, 2005; Turner, Wheaton, & Lloyd, 1995) and pr essures related to the strain of racial discrimination and prejudice (Brown et al., 1999 ; Din-Dzietham, Nembhard, Collins, & Davis,
13 2004; Krause, 2005b) can produce debilitating levels of stress. How African-American elders cope with stress indeed, that these elders actually do cope with stress is an important subject for sociological inquiry. Conceptual Framework The resources people draw upon in order to cope with problem s are embedded in both achieved and ascribed identities developed and played out over a lifetime (Clark, Anderson, Clark, & Williams, 1999; Pearlin, Lieberman, Menaghan, & Mullan, 1981; Turner & Avison, 2003). In this study coping will be situated in a meaning making framework. Coping, from a meaning making perspective, is understood in rela tion to an individuals roles, experiences and ways of understanding the world that are most salient to them. Meaning making coping focuses on situated subjectivities: an individuals will to meaning, shaped and developed over a lifetime within diverse social and structural contex ts (Park, 2000). Two important meaning making systems in the United States religion and race are the focus of this investigation. Religious and racial meaning making can be thought of as cosmologies of the self frames through which individuals comprehend the world and ma ke sense of their experiences. Key Concepts and Definitions For the purposes of this study elder is define d as an individual age 55 and older. W hile this age may be considered young from some pers pectives, researchers have suggested that age 55 is a better cut-off point for talking about minority aging, than age 65, due to minority elders shorter life expectancy and health disparities in comparison to white elders (Yang & Levkoff, 2005). Later Life describes the period in life from age 55 onward. A problem or crisis is a situation or event that a person perceives as personally threatening or unpleasant. Stress describes the emotional, psychological and physio logical response to a problem or crises. Stressors are the events, situations or experiences that caus e stress (Pearlin, 1989). Coping is a
14 highly subjective, corrective response to problems or crises that br ings an individual back to a self-determined state of equilibrium or comfort. Religious coping, refers to the specific faithoriented cognitive and behavioral responses that people engage in to reduce, avoid, or eliminate the noxious effects of the stressf ul life events that confront them (Schaie, Krause, & Booth, 2004). In a similar vein, racial coping is a ra ce-oriented cognitive and behavioral response that uses cultural, social and historical understandings of racial identity as a way to cope with stress, whether the stress is race-related or not. A meaning making system is a set of ideas, idea ls, experiences and orie ntations that people draw upon to make sense of the world a nd their place in it. Meaning making is multidimensional, fluid and complex. Systems of meaning can emanate from any number of experiences (e.g., race, age, the intersection of gender and ability) and are idiosyncratic (e.g., gendered experiences are not the same for everyone). However, some elements of meaning making are a product of collectiv e experience and soci alization into highly salient personal identities (e.g., race, gender or religion), social contexts (e.g., family or peer group) or macrolevel structural phenomena (e.g., th e Great Depression). Both re ligious identity and racial identity are understood to be important meani ng making systems in the context of the United States. Each encapsulates . the cognitive re sponse to the question of identity: Who am I? These include the characteristics, preferences, go als, and behavior patterns we associate with ourselves, (Howard, 2000, p. 368) and our achieve d (e.g., I am a member of First Baptist Church.) and ascribed (e.g., I am an African American.) identiti es. Identity is the story we tell about our selves narrative structure applied to ones life (McAdams, 1997). Identity, like meaning making, is both individu ally and socially constructed. Meaning making systems supply
15 a frame some aspects socially determined, some self-created. Identity is the portrait we paint of ourselves selective, inventive, eclectic, proactive, ever-cha nging, and above all, personal. Research Questions This research is designed to explore three questions: what problem s do elders say they have experienced in life? how do elders say that they have coped with problems in life? what religious and/or racial meaning making coping process ha ve elders adopted to cope with problems in life? Data and Methods Data for this research com e from an exploratory study conducted by Ardelt (2003, 2005a) of wisdom in a population of comm unity dwelling elders in the Sout heastern United States. The goal of the study was to understand how wise and low wisdom elders cope with crisis and to test a scale designed to measure the cognitive, reflecti ve and affective dimensions of wisdom (Ardelt, 2003). In that study, after administering surveys to 180 respondents, 40 elders were selected on the basis of their cumulative score (high, median, and low) on the three-dimensional wisdom scale, for semi-structured, face-to-face in terviews. These interviews took place between December 1997 and December 1999. In the interviews participants were asked to reflect on the most pleasant and unpleasant events they experi enced in the previous week, month, year and their entire life. For the unpleasant events, elders were asked to talk about how they coped. Interviewees were African and white Amer ican (n = 7 and n = 9, respectively) and Christian (from several Christian denominations). A convenience sa mple of fourteen of Ardelts forty interviews was selected for this study. In addition, two interviews from a related, unpublished study conducted by Ardelt (using the same series of questions relied upon in the present study) were included in th e sample in order to balance out the number of interviews with
16 African Americans. The interviews used in this study (with the exception of the two interviews from the unpublished study) were selected on the ba sis of the interviewees paired intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity score. An attempt was made to vary the paired religiosity scores so that every possible permutation was represented among th e interviews selected for the present study. I was blinded to the interviewees score on the wisdom scale so as not to bias my analysis. After the analysis was complete I integrated respondents wisdom scores into the write-up of the analysis. The interviews we re analyzed, qualitatively, us ing the grounded theory method (Charmaz, 2006).
17 CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW Stress in Later Life U.S. Aging Trends America is a graying society (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, & The Merck Institute on Aging and Health [CDC/MERCK ], 2005; Nelson, 1987; Peterson, 1999). Due largely to advances in medical science (e.g., ne w treatments for serious illnesses and disease prevention) the average life expectancy in the United States has increased dramatically. Population trends over the past one hundred years show that the proportion of older people in the United States population is steadily growing (see Table 2.1). In f act, the oldest old (composed mainly of women) are the fastest growing segm ent of the U.S. population. According to one estimate, by 2030 the number of people age 85 and older in the U.S. could exceed 10 million 6 million more than in 2002. By 2050 their number is projected to reach 19 million (National Institute on Aging [NIA], 2002). Aging trends like these are cause for concer n. Dependency ratios (the proportion of the population 65 and older, to those 18 to 64) are cited with alarm. Demographers predict that, increasingly, the elderly will come to depend on a shrinking number of working people for support. In 1990 the elder depende ncy ratio was 19.0; by 2050 this figur e is expected to increase to 33.9 (Novak, 2006, p. 93). Peterson (1999) has gone so far as to liken U.S. aging trends to a global hazard (p. 42), ominously designating th e aging of the U.S. population as the gray dawn, and aging trends in the West as the Flo ridization of the develope d world (p. 43). He writes, We face a threat more grave and certain th an those posed by chemical weapons, nuclear proliferation, or ethnic strife: the "age wave." As life expect ancy grows and fertility rates decline, senior citizens will make up an ev er-larger share of the total population. The effects of this demographic shift will be st aggering. It will come with a whopping price
18 tag, which will place a massive burden on an ever-smaller working-age population. Economic, social, and even military policy throughout the next century will have to respond to this unalterable trend. Unless the We st recognizes the challenges to come and devises a strategy to meet them, the future will be gray and bleak. (p. 42) As the number of older people in the United St ates increases, elde r social and economic support services are expected to strain under the pressure of mounting demand and dwindling resources (Binstock, 2005). This situation has co ntributed to anxiety am ong the aged and those nearing retirement (Putney & Bengston, 2005). I ndeed, the elderly and all working people have had to face the fact that the over-burdened social security system and increasingly less secure pension plans will not provide the support they once promised. These developments contribute to what Pearlin (1989) calls ambient st ress: diffuse stress that emerges from social structures and peoples location wi thin them (p. 242). The aging lif e course is a social structure that interacts, affects and is aff ected by other social structures lik e race, gender, class, family and work. In the United States in later life individuals face a number of stressors that arise, predictably, in the process of aging. Sources of Stress in Later Life It is a gross overgeneralizati on to speak of later life as an undifferentiated period. In fact, several distinct periods comprise later life la te-middle (55-64), old (6579) and oldest-old (80 and older) age (Novak, 2006). The experiences of adults during later life stand-out from other periods in the life course in many important ways. There is, however, no average aging experience that transcends important considerations such as race, gender and class. Adults in later life encounter diverse stre ssors as they move through life. What stressors an individual encounters in later life are to a considerable degree grounded in past and ongoing events, social statuses and identities, experiences and challenges from bi rth onward (Elder, Johnson, & Crosnoe, 2003). Past and present health status (e .g., the presence of serious disease or disability)
19 the timing of events and transition into or out of social roles (e.g., marriage, parenthood or widowhood), history (e.g., having li ved through Jim Crow segregat ion or the Great Depression, serving or having had a loved one who served in World War II, the Vietnam War, or Desert Storm) and social structural factors (e.g., xenophobia, sexism and/ or racism) all influence the kinds of events people perceive as stressful and how they respond to them. Several important milestones mark the experien ces of Americans in late-middle, old and oldest-old age. Typically, during late-middle age, families transition from full nest to empty nest homes. Children move out, go to college, establish careers, marry and begin families of their own. Parents, freed from th e burden of child care, are able to disengage from activities that center around the needs of the nuclear family and home. In old age parents become grandparents, many retire from full-time work some go on to start second or even third careers. For those blessed with good health and suffici ent financial resources, more time and relaxed schedules make travel, leisure and recreation an object of full-time pursuit. Others retire and choose to spend their time with family and fr iends, on hobbies, in clubs or in volunteer or charitable activities. While some of the oldest-old become frail or disabled, many in this group remain vital and healthy well into their eighth de cade. The oldest-old might spend their last years in thoughtful contemplation of past e xperiences, sharing life lessons and accumulated wealth with younger members of their family. Concer ns over social or political issues might also encourage elders in this life st age to engage with broader publics to pass on wise counsel for the benefit of future generations. The picture the above descriptions paint is of an idealized later life the Golden Years one not punctuated by stress, crises and loss. Stre ss is an inevitable part of every life. While there is no evidence to indicate that later life is a time of especially severe stress, the stress that
20 occurs during later life takes on a special mean ing because it happens at a time when significant changes in social roles and netw orks, physical, and in some cases, psychological, health occur. These changes are compounded by those associated with an individuals re lationship to social structures, institutions, and custom. While race, gender, and class biases operate alone and intersectionally in younger years, in later life ageism intrudes to exacerbate these biases and the discrimination that often results. Maintenance of social roles and networks Changes in the overall age structure in the U.S. correspond to an increase in the num ber of multigenerational families. Co-survivorship among generations (Putney & Bengston, 2005) increases the number of kin avai lable for childcare and other type s of family support functions. Greater longevity and health into late adu lthood has contributed to more opportunities for intergenerational contact and lengt hened the time elders spends in family roles and relationships (e.g., husband, grandparent) (Putney & Bengston, 2005). While co-survivorship has many positive benefits (e.g., assistance with child care, time spent with relatives and friends) more time in kin roles can also mean more time in demanding and stressful relationships. This is especially true for poor and minority families who rely on family and fictive kin networks for support (Putney & Bengston, 2005). Families play a dual role in stress. Families are, at the same time, a bulwark against stress and a source of strain. For example, during late -middle age, adult children may return to the parental home (popularly called boomerang kids) as a consequence of economic woes, marital disruption or divorce, or simply as a way to reduce expenses (M itchell & Gee, 1996; Ramachandran, 2005; Settersten, 1998; Singletar y, 2005; Veevers & Mitchell, 1998). Children who are delayed nest-leavers may also be a prob lem to late-middle-agers. In such situations
21 parents experience stress relate d to sharing a home, and sometim es limited financial resources, with adult children (Putney & Bengston, 2005). Stress might emerge in late-middle and ol d age from care extended to grandchildren. Increasingly, parents are taking full-time custodial care of thei r childrens children (Bachman & Chase-Lansdale, 2005). According to data from the AARP, in 2000 6.3% or 4.5 million children under 18 were living with a grandparent as th e head of household, a 30% increase from 1990 (AARP, 2006). Whether as a result of accidental death, substance abuse, marital dissolution, neglect, or incarceration, many mo re grandparents are re-entering th e role of primary caregiver at a point in their lives when they may have e xpected more me-time. While many parents are happy to extend help, co-residential living arrang ements and off-time custodial grand parenting exact a serious toll, for some, due to challenge s in the grandparents physical, psychological and emotional health (Bachman & Chase-Lansdale, 2005). For elders age 65 and older release from da ily work responsibilities through retirement can lead to stress when retirees feel forced in to the retirement decision and/or they become disenchanted with their post-retire ment activities. In a study of th e factors related to retirees and their spouses individual and joint retirement sa tisfaction, Smith and Moen (2004) found that: (1) fewer spouses of retirees expressed satisfaction with the retirement decision than the retirees themselves, and (2) individual a nd couple retirement sa tisfaction was linked to perceptions of spousal influence on the decision to retire. The el der couples that expressed the most satisfaction with retirement were couples in which wives fe lt that their husbands did not influence their retirement decision. The opposite was the case for husbands who seemed to welcome an involved spouses influence.
22 Loneliness and bereavement are issues that a ffect nearly every elder. Widowhood or the loss of close friends and family trigger stress b ecause these losses represent a change in social roles, networks and identity (Barrett, 2003; Di ehl, 1999; Diehl, Coyle, & Labouvie-Vief, 1996; Diehl, Hastings, & Stanton, 2001; Howard, 2000; Stets & Burke, 2003). To a great extent, people are who they are in relati on to the significant others in their lives (e.g., Samuels wife, Candaces best friend or Jacobs daughter). The effects of changes in so cial roles and ties to social networks can be wide-reaching and serious, causing an individual to feel isolated and out of touch with the society (Granovetter, 1983). Depression, suicide and alcohol abuse have all been linked to social role loss, feelings of isolation, helpless ness and diminished self-concept (APA, 1998; Barnea & Teichman, 1994; Blazer, 2003). Spousal loss and bereavement hits elder women hardest (AOA, 2002). In 2001, approximately 50% of elder women age 65 and ol der were widows four times the number of widowers (Novak, 2006). Of elders who lose thei r spouse, 15 to 25 percent have problems with long-term bereavement (Lund, 1993). Emotional num bness, grief, depression, guilt, disbelief, shock, feelings of lost identit y, abandonment, and anger are a few of the emotions present after the loss of ones significant other (Novak, 2006). Feelings of loss and bereavement are not onl y associated with the death of a spouse. Caring for a disabled or seriously ill parent or partner also causes de ep emotional stress. Because wives are generally healthier than th eir husbands, more spousal caregivers age 65 and older are women. Thirty-seven percent of women, as opposed to 10% of men, in this age group serve as caregivers to their disabled spous e (Novak, 2006). Even when full-time care for a spouse is transferred to nursing home staff, stress sometimes continues for the communityresiding partner who may feel guilt a nd loneliness (MacKenzie & MacLean, 1992).
23 Having achieved oldest, old age does not exempt one from having social role stress. Illness and death of family members and close frie nds is a frequent source of stress for the very old (Dunkle, Roberts, & Haug, 2001). This loss is experienced in two ways. First, the death or serious illness of a family memb er absents that person from the elders life. The bereavement and grief that results from a death is easy to understand. What is unique to the bereavement experiences of the oldest old is the devastating impact of deaths on social networks of family and friends. For the very old, weak ties (Granove tter, 1983) to distant acq uaintances are greatly reduced with aging as elders drop-out of work, family and leisure activities that integrate them into society and bring them into regular cont act with acquaintances. Strong ties to close friends and relatives assume an increased importa nce. The loss of a family member or close friend a strong tie impacts social networks by reducing the overall number and quality of social ties and avenues for meaningful personal and social interacti ons (Granovetter, 1983). Elders in this circumstance feel like orphans one of a few or the sole surviving member of a family or friend group. On top of grief, these elders feel left be hind and completely alone in the world. Physical health Perhaps one of the biggest threats to physical health and well-being among those in later life is their own ageism. When elders accept the mistaken belief that nothing can be done to improve their health as they age that it is all downhill after 30 they set themselves on a slippery slope that contributes to disease process that are prevented or, at least, attenuated through lifestyle changes. Phys ical changes that occur becaus e of underlying disease processes are not a normal part of the life course at a ny age (Meuleman, 2006). Disease is abnormal and should not be thought of as inev itably connected to advancing ag e. In the West, generally, peoples bodies age well.
24 There are, however, diseases that are co mmon among the elderly: dementia, osteoporosis, prostatic disease, pneumonia, and urinary incont inence occur more frequently among the elderly than in young people. Among the elderly age 65 and older most deaths are due to chronic (as opposed to acute or preventative) conditions; hear t disease, cancer and stroke represent 68% of all deaths among elders 65 and ol der (Kart & Kinney, 2001). The top five causes of death in old age are heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascula r disease, pneumonia and flu, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (Gorin a, Hoyert, Lentzner, & Goulding, 2005) Fortunately, in the United Stat es adults are living longer and healthier lives well into late old age. Contrary to ageist ster eotypes that portray later life as a time of dependency, mental and physical frailty and declining health, the majority of elder adults in th e U.S. live independent, full and active lives (APA, 1998). However, while Americans generally experience better health and increased longevity, there are a constellation of physical cha nges that appear in the human body as it ages. In middle and late middle age physical changes ge nerally do not signal death; in fact, these changes are far less dramatic than those that occur between infancy and the teens (Kirasic, 2004). Health conditions like arth ritis, hypertension, chr onic sinusitis, hearing problems, heart disease, allergies, hemorrhoids, diabetes and varicose veins are common nonfatal conditions in midlife (Kirasic 2004). Between age 30 and 70, for example, cardiac output decreases by 30%, metabolism decreases between 8 and 12 percent, and muscle and bone mass decreases 25 to 30 percent. These changes repres ent the normal wear and tear process of aging bodies and are hardly perceptible until middle or late-middle age. Physic al change, in itself and because it is a telltale sign of the aging pro cess, may however cause emotional, psychological and physical stress.
25 Normal, age-related physical changes concentr ated in old and oldest old age include: hearing loss and impairment (eff ecting 30% of those 60 and older and half of those over 85), weakening vision and vision impairments, change s in bones and muscle that cause pain and stiffness, and deficits in long-term memory a nd recall. Common physical ailments in this age group include arthritis, hyperten sion, heart disease, diabet es and osteoporosis. Sexual dysfunction is also common among elder men and women and can affect quality of life and sexual intimacy. Sleep difficulty, in the form of insomnia, is also common. Any one of these problems experienced over an extended peri od can increase stress, feelings of loss or vulnerability, and reduce life sati sfaction and feelings of wellbeing (Barrett, 2003; Danhauer, Carlson, & Andrykowski, 2005; Efklides, Varsam i, Mitadi, & Economidis, 2006; Gott et al., 2006; Wilhelmson, Andersson, Waern, & Allebeck, 2005). Psychological health Midlif e is a time when some adults feel that th ey have, at long last, mastered life. Wiser than they were in their young adult years, midlifers may feel more confident and accomplished in the skills of living than at any other point in their lives. Poised on the summit of life where they are neither focused on what lies ahead of them (like young adults) nor aft ( like the old or oldest old) (Kirasic, 2004), adults in midlife appear to be absent the psychological problems, like depression, low self-esteem and anxiety, that pl ague younger and older age groups. Adults in midlife, generally, view themselves as well adjusted and in control of their emotions (Tierney, 2006). However, psychological stress at midlife can be illusive. Factors present in American culture contribute to the unique contexts in which midlifers e xperience stress. According to Kirasic (2004), the individualist ic and independent cultural ethos of the U.S. can be stress producing. The emphasis on material success a nd individual personal achievement in every aspect of family, marriage and work life, place a great deal of stress on midlifers, especially
26 minorities and women who confront obstacles and biases in pursuit of mainstream American standards of achievement. In the 1960s and 1970s researchers argued that the pressures expe rienced by American adults would give rise to a need to drastically reevaluate goals and objectives at midlife. This was called the midlife crisis and was placed alongside other age-graded developmental milestones as a normal part of the life course between ages 40 and 50. The primary indicator of midlife crisis was believed to be personality change, depression, anxiety and manic flight (Rosenberg, Rosenberg, & Farrell, 1999, p. 49). Today there is near unanimous agreement among researchers that midlife crisis is not supported by the empirical data. Drug use, divor ce and suicide at midlife are not the result of a midlife crisis; rather these be haviors are cultural artifacts of white, male, middle and upper middle class experiences and culture (Kirasic, 20 04; Rosenberg et al., 1999). In spite of the pressures and multiple demands that coalesce aro und midlife, depression is not a serious problem for midlife adults (Kirasic, 2004). Too, while persona lity does change over the life course it is, for the most part, stable and predictable over time (Rosenberg et al., 1999). Because of the diversity of experiences among midl ife adults, the private, subjectiv e nature of stressors and the way people react to them, the psyc hology of midlife is in need of more research attention. The relationship between psychological disorders and stress is more complicated for the old and oldest old. Elders age 65 and older ex perience fewer diagnosed episodes of the mental health problems that are common to younger adu lts (APA, 1998). According to the American Psychological Association (1998): A major population-based survey found that the overall prevalence of mental disorders for older adults was lower than for any other age group. Only cognitive impairment shows a definite age-associated increase in incidence. (p. 10)
27 However, many serious psychological problems are experienced by those 65 and older (APA, 1998). Generalized anxiety disorder, obsessi ve compulsive disord er, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, majo r depression, and schizophrenia ar e examples of some of these psychological problems. Of thes e mental health problems, some are reoccurrences of earlier crises, while others are related to the stress of growing older. Some illnesses like depression, a major problem among the elderly, especially the oldest old, are caused by medications, physical illnesses or biological changes (Tierney, 2006). There are unique psychological challenges that elders are vul nerable to in later life. Psychological health is lowest among elders who have to cope with the stress associated with poor health, lack of social relationships and in adequate financial res ources (APA, 1998). For example, white men age 65 and older have the highest rate of suicide (though women make more attempts) of any age group. In 2001, one white male elder killed himself every 97 minutes (Novak, 2006; Conwell, 2001; Conwell et al., 20 02). Alcohol and drug use and abuse are examples of mental health problems with a serious physical component exacerbated by older age. Alcoholism and drug abuse among elders ag e 65 and older, while quite low in comparison to younger adults (2% 5% of elde r men and 1% of elder women), ha ve an especially deleterious effect on elder physiology. A ccording to the APA (1998), Common stressors that contri bute to alcohol and drug abus e in later adulthood include retirement, relocation, death of a spouse or close relative, conflict within the family, financial concerns, and physical health problems. (p. 16) There are, of course, psychological disorder s, like delirium, age-related dementia and Alzheimers disease, and trauma caused by elder abuse and neglect, that are found primarily in the old and oldest old (65 and ol der). The stress normally associated with these disorders is multiplied by the depression, anxiety and para noia that often accompany them (APA, 1998). Unfortunately, elders, their caregivers and relativ es often neglect mental and physical health care
28 believing bad emotional, psychological physical st ates are the normal result of aging (APA, 1998). Again, this is the consequence of ageist beliefs that confuse growing older with abnormal disease processes. Macrosocial stressors Sources of stress do not emerge solely from individual lives and pers onal interactions. It is important to look at how aspects of the social structure generate circumstances that lead to stress. Macrolevel social-str uctural factors, like ageism, sexism, poverty and racism, exert a significant influence on elder evaluations of stre ss and the ability to cope with problems and crises in life. Ageism. Angus and Reeve (2006) write that, agei sm is widespread, generally accepted, and largely ignored (p. 138). America is a youth-oriented culture; any reminders of what awaits all of us in the future old age and death is shunned or made light of. Like most biases ageism is grounded in fear. We debase, i gnore, make fun of and cling to stereotypes of the old as a way of distancing our selves from what is perceived as a menacing fate. Where there is reverence, particularly of the oldest old, it is only in so mu ch as we all desire the secret of living a long life (Tadd, 2000). Coined by the first director of the Nationa l Institute on Aging, Robert Butler, in 1969, ageism is defined as the, systematic stereot yping of and discrimination against older people (Tadd, 2000, p. 203). Tadd (2000) expands on Butlers widely accepted definition: Discrimination can take many forms, fr om personal prejudice, through exclusion, marginalization and exploitation to systema tic and structured oppression, and one of the main reinforcements of discrimination is ster eotyping. Stereotyping is adhering to a fixed, simplistic and negative image of an entire gr oup of people [e.g. believing] Old people are confused and dependent. (p. 204) Contemporarily, ageism is used more broa dly to describe bias on account of age.
29 Ageism can be motivated by compassion, carel essness or open hostility (Binstock, 2005). Tadd (2000) argues that the danger of ageist ster eotyping and discrimination is the tendency it encourages of, hid[ing] the realit ies facing individuals (p. 204). Ageism is rife in elders, as well as younger people. Instituti ons, especially those that serve the elderly, also perpetrate, intentionally or not, ageist stereotyping and discrimination. Language, too, is replete with epithets that point to entrench ed ageism. Recall the many derogatory names that begin with calling someone an Old ________! A ll but the most egregious ageism is tolerated in American society. There has been little, if any, national dialog that defines ageism as a problem, identifies its causes and consequences, and proposes remedies for those so victimized. Ageist stereotypes strike at the heart of coping well with stress and problems in life as such beliefs promote social constructions of agin g and the aged that, have the power to damage social and personal identities (Angus & Reeve, 2006, p. 139). The idea that older people are dependent, unproductive and ineffect ual in dealing with the most ba sic tasks of life is widespread (Angus & Reeve, 2006). Angus and R eeve (2006) argue that ageism, Is a concept that impacts on the lives of older people and younger people by obscuring understanding of the aging process, reinfo rcing structural inequalities, and shaping patterns of behavior in older people that are inimical to their interests. (p. 139) From a review of research on ageism, Angus a nd Reeve (2006) identify five of the most common ageist myths. These myths include the belief that old people: (1) are on a slippery slope of mental and physical decline; (2) are alone, lonely and isolated fr om society; (3) are sexless and have no sex life or sexual desi re; (4) are devoid of intellect and creativity; and (5) are nonproductive and burdensome to their families and society. Among the elderly who buy into these beliefs, these stereotypes contri bute to an extreme fear of dependency. This fear of dependency cause s some elders to reject help even when it is sorely needed (Angus & Reeve, 2006). Ageist myths support moralistic reasoning that equates
30 poor health and the need for economic, health or so cial services with havi ng lived an intemperate life. This has lead to public re sentment of welfare programs and se rvices directed at the elderly; programs that, thirty or forty years ago, were motivated by compassionate concern for elders now inspire contempt. As ageist reasoning in support of dismantling social services for the elderly would have it, elders are mostly weal thy or well off, unproductive and a drain on public coffers (Binstock, 2005). Elders find themselves between a rock and a hard place damned if they fit the stereotype of dependenc y and damned if they fight it. After thirty plus years of research on ageism Erdman Pa lmore (2005) concludes that, Ageism makes a great difference in our so ciety and culture, even though most people are not aware of it. Ageism creates needless fear, waste, illness, and misery, especially among older people. It is a social diseas e much like racism and sexism. (p. 90) Clearly, much more research needs to be done in order to assess the extent of ageist stereotypes, the impact on the experiences and perception of olde r people, especially in regards to stress, and how society might begin to attack ageist beliefs. Sexism. Gender bias is not experi enced in the same ways throughout the life course. This is perhaps most evident in the gendered double-standard that pertains to physical attractiveness and aging (Hatch, 2005). We are all familiar with how this bias works: Women get old, while men become distinguished older ge ntlemen; gray hair and wrinkles on a woman undercut femininity. The mass media, advertising and entertainment industries play a large role in both supporting and perpetua ting gendered ageist stereotypes and discrimination. Through humor, absence, disparaging stereotypes, simp listic portrayals, and one-dimensional characters older women are marked as less appealing, asexual, dependent, pe rpetual nurturers or as evil crones. Calasanti et al. (2006) refer to this as cultural imperialism (p. 20). Unfortunately, studies show that women are as likely to buy in to these stereotypes as are men (Hatch, 2005).
31 Gendered age bias extends to social policy. In an analysis of the Medicare system Hendricks, Hatch and Cutler (1999) found that the insurance program favored mens health care more than womens. Because payments go more readily to acute illness than chronic care, men reap a greater benefit from the Medicare system than women, who are more likely to experience chronic illnesses. Another dimension of bias in Medicare insurance is provisions that disallow payment for long-term nursing home care. Because women live longer than men and are more likely to outlive their husbands, requiring non-familial caregivers, this policy works against them. The Social Security system operates with si milar gender biases. Because social security is a pay-in program benefits are not available to women who have worked primarily in the home. Also, because women are more likely to earn less over their lives than men, and because work is often interrupted due to pregnanc y and family responsibilities, be nefits are lower for women than for men. In 2003, the average monthly payment for women was $764 and $1,013 for men (Calasanti et al., 2006). Even when a widowed wo man receives benefits as a result of the death of her husband, rules require that she have been ma rried for at least ten y ears and even then she only receives half the payment her husband would ha ve received if he were alive (Hatch, 2005). Healthcare institutions and workers also evid ence gendered ageism. Studies show that in interactions with physicians olde r women are more like to be interrupted, have their concerns for care devalued and have their illnesses labeled as psychosomatic. This bias influences the doctors choice of treatment: wo men 46-60 are less likely to recei ve transplants than men and diagnosis of heart disease comes later for women than men, increasing womens rates of mortality (Hatch, 2005).
32 Feminist scholars have been critical of the l ack of attention paid to the impact of sexism and ageism (Calasanti et al., 2006) on womens lives. Calasan ti and colleagues (2006) assert: An inadvertent but pernicious ageism burde ns much of womens studies scholarship and activism. It stems from failing to study old people on their own terms and from failing to theorize age relations the system of inequality, based on age, which privileges the notold at the expense of the old. (p. 13) Like the more general issue of ageism, gender, ag ing and sexism is in need of more research attention. Calasanti et al. (2006) also point out how important it is for scholars to link arms with activists and for both to integrat e the others work on ag ing, old age and age relations in order to probe issues of gendered age bias. Calasanti et al. (2006) suggest that future research address the middle-class biases inherent in the successful aging model a nd discourse that suggest that elders adopt an individualist ment ality to aging, where defying an aged physical exterior (i.e., age is just a number; it is all in your head) is what is strived for. Also needed is research on the nature of age relations that uncovers, how all of our positions and experiences rest upon power relations based on age (p. 17). Calasanti et al. (2006) assert: Old age does not just exacerbate other inequa lities but is a social location in its own right, conferring a loss of pow er for all those designated as old regardless of their advantages in other hierarchies. (p. 17) Calasanti et al. (2006) highlight the significance of work on age relations while pointing us in the direction of future re search and theorizing. Poverty. Ageism is evident in the marginalized economic status of elders. While it is, generally, illegal to deny an older person a job on account of age, ageism in the workplace is woven into staffing and recruitment policies, career structures, and retirement policies (Calasanti et al., 2006, p. 18). Income and wealth disparities are gr eatest in old age (Calasanti et al., 2006). While there are older people who have accumulated large sums of money and wealth over their lives, most retired Americans live off of a more modest fina ncial reserve consisting
33 mainly of social security pensi on. For four-fifths of those receiving social security payments, the money is approximately half of their monthly income. Of co urse, social security does not guarantee that elders live above the poverty line; approximately a fifth of minority men and a fourth of minority women live in poverty despite receiving social security payments. In 2005 12% of elder women and 7% of elder men age 65 and older lived below the poverty line (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006, p. 39). Interestingly, the poverty level for people age 65 and older ($8,825 in 2003) is lower than for those of younger age ($9,573). This lower threshold is based on the assumption that older people require fewer calor ies and thus have lower nutritional expenses. Older adults are also more likely than younge r adults to be targeted and victimized by several types of financial fraud. Ferguson and King (2006) refer to such schemes as economic terrorism and include among them redlining, predatory lending, housi ng piracy and home foreclosure (Ferguson & King, 2006). Minority elders who own homes in urban communities are more often victims of financial fraud than other older Americans. Elder minorities in dire financial straits are deluged with offers to borrow money by usi ng their home as collateral for loans at subprime rates. Subprime lending is a billion dollar a year business. Ferguson and King (2006) report that between 1994 and 2004 earnings for this industry grew from $35 billion to $213 billion (p. 149). Millions have been grifted by these lenders 90% of the proceeds from this technically legal, but unethical en terprise come from elders (p. 149). Because of the shame of having been taken advantage of in financial schemes, some elders do not come forward to report incidences or ask for help. Here again is an example of how ageist stereotypes (e.g., old people are dependent and gullible) and predatory, ageist discrimination (that depends upon the needs of financially vulnerable elders) combine to undermine the health and welfare of older adu lts and cause stress. Elder financial fraud
34 victimization illustrates the importance of looking at stress from an intersectional perspective that grounds analysis in micro (individual), meso (social networks and communities) and macro (institutions) structural factors. Racism. Multiple (or double) jeopardy describes the increased risk of disease, illness, loss, stress and crises borne by minorities as th ey age (Markides, Timbers, & Osberg, 1984; Yang & Levkoff, 2005). The National Institutes of Health define health disparities as, Differences in morbidity, mortality, and access to health care among popul ation groups defined by factors such as socioeconomic status, gender, residence, and race or ethnicity. (as quoted in Dressler, Oths, & Gravlee, 2005). Numerous studies have shown th at poor, minority elders have a higher incidence and earlier ons et of disease and more pernic ious and deadly physical and mental health problems than their white pe ers (APA, 1998; Anderson, Bulatao & Cohen, 2004; Bulatao & Anderson, 2004; Cummings et al., 2003; Denny, Holtzman, Goins, & Croft, 2005; Kart & Kinney, 2001; Novak, 2006; Pearlin et al., 2005; Zsem bik, Peek & Peek, 2000). Dressler, Oths and Gravlee (2005) conclude of the health disparities literature, On nearly every index measured, African Americans suffer in relati on to European Americans, and often to other racial and ethnic groups as well (p. 232). In a summary of the research on racial disp arities in elder hea lth, Novak (2006) cites medical research findings indi cating African Americans have a greater incidence of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, and disabili ty compared to whites. In addition, African-American elderly are more likely than whites to rate th eir health as fair or poor. Yang and Levkoff (2005, p. 43) cite mortality statistics on birth cohorts by race: accordingly, for every birth cohort of 100,000 men, 17,000 fewer Afri can-American men live to age 65 than whites. The figure is 10,100 for African-Ameri can women. Curiously, life expectancy and
35 morbidity rates (e.g., rates of heart disease) for the oldest old African Americans are higher than that of whites. Researchers hypothesize that African-American elders who survive to their eighth decade are among the hearties t elders, regardless of race. Researchers have also concluded that the health of minority el ders is exacerbated by delays in seeking treatment, non-adherence to drug therap ies, distrust of healthcare providers and cultural food and folkways practiced over a lifetime that increase the risk of disease and ill health (APA, 1998; Blankenau et al., 2000). Factors related to the av ailability and provision of healthcare services, failure to include minoritie s in medical and drug research, and lack of understanding by medical professionals of cultural factors, also cont ributes to increased risk of poor health among minority elders (Blanchard & Lurie, 2004; Brown et al., 1999; Kuzel et al., 2004; Mandelblatt et al., 2002). African-American elders reflect these health di sparities in their subjective assessments of aging. First, minorities appear to suffer from greater inter nalized ageism than whites due to differences in experiences over the life course, as well as perceptions of minority physical and mental health and access to financial sources a nd support in old age (Yang & Levkoff, 2005). In addition, when African-American elders are as ked about their experience of aging, low socioeconomic status elders report an older age identity and attri bute this to having poorer health and less optimistic views about their future heal th (Barrett, 2003). Barre tt (2003) has attributed these findings to the speed with which low so cioeconomic status adults pass through life transitions like the completion of formal edu cation, marriage, parenthood, and retirement. According to Barrett (2003) the life course of low socioeconomic status African-American elders is more temporally compressed. This means that They view the onset of old age as occurring at a younger age, perceive earlier cultural age dead lines for many adult transitions, and anticipate
36 a shorter life span (p. S101). This is troubli ng as research shows that having a youthful age identity is associated with better mental health, life satisfaction, morale, a nd self esteem (Barrett, 2003; Yang & Levkoff, 2005). Minority health disparities rese arch is a complex area of i nquiry; differences in health outcomes emerge from conditions with important biomedical, historical, demographic, economic and social and cultural elements (Yang & Levkoff, 2005). Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain how race explains health dispari ties. Theories include those that read racial and ethnic health disparities through the lens of race and genetics, health behavior, socioeconomics, social psychology a nd stress, and social structure. In a review of findings from studies using these different th eoretical approaches, Dressler and colleagues (2005) found that psychosocial stress models (of institutional a nd perceived racism) and those that examine disparities through a structural-constructivist perspectives, highlighting the importance of perception, cognition, and meaning making in contexts of racial stratifica tion, do the best job of explaining minority health disparities. Several hypothesis from the elder health dispar ities literature support Dressler et al. (2005) findings. First, the weather ing hypothesis assumes a psychosocial stress paradigm and proposes that the cumulative impact of racism over time causes accelerated aging and leads to racial disparities in health (Geronimus, 1992). Ferraro and Farmers (1996) double jeopardy hypothesis, also emphasizes the role of stress. Ferraro and Farmer ( 1996) contend that older African Americans are at higher ri sk for serious health problems due to the combined stress of racism and ageism. John Henryism is perhaps the most well-known exp lication of the stresshealth hypothesis. James, Harnett, & Kalsbeek (1983) hypothesizes that high-effort coping with adversity (p. 2) produces stress and il l health in African-American men. James and
37 colleagues (1983) found that Afri can-American men who adopted active coping in dealing with life challenges were more likely to have hyperten sion if they lacked trad itional resources, like education, to facilitate the achievement of th eir goals. James and colleagues theorize that experiencing daily stress, over many years will a lter the vascular system such that a permanent increase in resting blood pressure is the result (James et al., 1983). Ecosocial models bridge psychos ocial stress theories and stru ctural-constructivist models by highlighting the interaction betw een racial or racist environm ents and social factors that produce stress. Living in disorganized communitie s, conflict with the police, and having dark skin are identified as st ressor that causes both mental and phy sical illness (Clark et al., 1999; Dressler, Oths, & Gravlee, 2005). Elder health disparities between African Americans and whites have also been shown to operate through socioeconomic factors experienced in childhood and as an adult. Level of education (self a nd parents), employment status (including parental employment and occupation), single-parent fam ily structure and lifetim e experience of poverty have been shown to influence morbidity and mortality differentially by race, with African American being more disadvantaged (Farme r & Ferraro, 2005; Warner & Hayward, 2006). No matter the specific origin, racial health di sparities are reason for serious concern given projections that the proportion of African-America n elderly will increase in the future. AfricanAmerican elders, who are now roughly 8% of the elder population, will increase to approximately 10% of the elder population by midcentury (APA, 1998). No w more than ever, it is important to understand the myriad of factor s that influence African -American elders stress and coping.
38 Religion, Meaning Making and Coping in Later Life Religiosity in the U.S. In the present study, religion is lim ited to Christian Protestant and Catholic, denominations. Americans are overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian. Eighty-five percent of respondents in a Newsweek/Beliefn et poll report being Christian (Adler, 2005). Findings from this survey indicate that Americans take religion and spirituality seriously. For example, 57% of respondents report that spirituality is very impor tant in their daily liv es (Adler, 2005, p. 48). Sixty-nine percent of those pol led report that they practice religion to forge a personal relationship with God (39%) or to help be a better person and live a moral life (30%). Only 3% of respondents indicated that they practice religion t o be a part of a community of believers (Adler, 2005, p. 48). For the respondents in the Newsweek/Beliefnet poll, religious faith and spirituality appear to be expressions of deeply held values, providing tools for living and guiding principles for managing vicissitudes of life. Elder Americans are especially religious (S chaie et al., 2004). More so than younger people, religion stands out as particularly salient to elder Americans. In an analysis of national Gallup Poll survey data (from 1992-1999) of more than 40,000 adults, Ehmann (1999) found that religion is very important for older age groups: 45% of young people (age 18-29) believe religion is important in their lives, compared to 55% of peopl e 30-49 years old, 70% of those 50 and older and 77% of elder age 75 years and older. Measures of church attendance show similar age-related patterns: 46% of elders age 75 and older say they attend church on a weekly basis, while only 23% of young people indicate that they do so. Further, in a study of religious trajectories over the life course, el ders age 65 and older indicated that as they aged they: (1) became more religious, (2) made more attempts to learn about their faith (e.g., through Bible
39 study), (3) developed a more intimate relationship with God; and (4) expressed less doubt about Gods existence (Ingersoll-Dayton, Krause, & Morgan, 2002). Scientific Interest in Religio n and Coping in Later Life The idea th at religion contributes to health and well-being is not uni versally accepted. Some scientists have argued th at religion has an unquestionably negative effect. Sigmund Freud argued that religion was a kind of mental disease, calling Christia nity "the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity." (Freud, 1961, p. 43). Albert Ellis, the fa ther of cognitive-behavioral therapy, likened religion to irrational thinking and emotional disturbance, concluding that religion is health-sabotaging and pathological (as cited in Koenig, 1997). Wendell Watters, a Canadian psychoanalyst, wrote that Christian in doctrination is a form of mental and emotional abuse. (as quoted in Koenig, 1997, p. 27). In the last 10-15 years there has been an in crease in scholarly interest in examining the relationship between religion and coping with stress, particularly stress brought on by mental and physical impairments to health (Ellison, Boardman, Williams, & Jackson, 2001; Idler, 1987; King, Burgess, Akinyela, Count-Spriggs, & Pa rker, 2005; Koenig, 1997; Koenig, McCullough & Larson, 2001; McCullough & Laurenceau, 2005; Neil & Kahn, 1999; Schaie et al., 2004; Weaver, Flannelly, Strock, Krause, & Flannelly, 2005; Wink, Dillon & Larsen, 2005). On balance this research finds salutary effects for religion, however, it is unclear what mechanisms or aspects of religion or spir ituality are responsible for its positive effects on coping. Religion, Spirituality, Wisdom and Coping in Later Life How m ight religion contribute to coping? Carl Jungs and Erik Eriksons work integrated religion into a framework healthy adult development. Jung, a ps ychotherapist, noted the positive benefits of religion and religious practice. While he regarded Christian religious tenets as mythologies, Jung saw religion as a necessary spiritual support (Szasz, 1978). Erikson, a
40 psychologist, highlighted the impor tance of religious et hics in his work on human development (Erikson, 1980). According to Erik son, religion was a key part of th e last developmental task of adulthood: choosing between the paths of ego inte grity or despair. Erikson theorized that religion could facilitate the move toward e go integrity by encouragi ng a quest for meaning making, acceptance of past life decisions and experiences, and forgiveness of self and others. The concept of gerotranscendence suggests another mechanism through which positive coping is achieved in later life, emphasizing a person-centered, spiritual experience of the sacred that eschews institutionalized ex pressions of faith (e.g., observances of creeds, church hierarchy and authority and congregational fellowship). Gerotranscendence, according to Tornstam (1997), is a break with previous stages of life wherein an indivi dual explores and redefines the self. Positive solitude, introspection, emanci pated innocence freedom to break away from social role or age conventions and tolerance of others are all features of gerotranscendence that might help elders cope with stress (Tornstam, 1997). Wisdom is another attribute that might be implicated in the positive relationship between religion and coping. Researcher s who study wisdom, elders and coping have identified beliefs and behaviors that reflect deep spiritual matur ity and humanistic concern for others (Ardelt, 2003, 2005a). Since ancient times wisdom has been associated with living well, moral decision making, and success in coping with crises in life. Ardelt (2003; 2005a) identifies three dimension of wise coping: (1) a cognitive dime nsion that includes pragmatic knowledge of life and human nature; (2) a reflective dimension that embodies cognitive empathy, the ability to see a situation from more than one perspective, and self examination; and (3) an affective component that includes positive emotions and behavior toward others. Though wisdom is not framed in explicitly religious or spiritual terms, the dimensions of wise coping identified by Ardelt (2003,
41 2005a) do embrace a set of values on par with Ch ristian tenets concerning sin, redemption, fairness, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and empa thy. Wisdom research contributes to our understanding of how religion might influence coping by describing the cognitive disposition of elders who cope well. The largest segment of research on religion a nd coping in later life ex amines the role of traditional, institutional religious affiliation, relig iosity and/or religious beliefs on coping with mental and physical problems (Black, 1999; Cu mmings et al., 2003; Ellison & Taylor, et al., 1996; Ellison et al., 2001; Husa ini, Blasi, & Miller, 1999; Kr ause, 2003; Krause, 2005a 2005b; 2005c; Shenk, Zablotsky, & Croom, 1998). Findings from this research demonstrate that religion offers many benefits to those in late life. Newman and Pargament (1997) summarize the importance of religion in coping as follows: Re ligion is seen as a meaning system used by individuals to help them find unde rstanding in the world, to help th em predict and control events, and to maintain self-esteem (p. 390). Religion, as a meaning system applied to stressful life events, works in a number of significant ways Koenig (1997) identifies several possible mechanisms through which religious coping might work to alleviate stress and facilitate effective coping. Religion provides people with a positive worldview; gives people meaning and purpose; encourages hope and motivation to persevere; is a means to a sense of personal empowerment; contributes to a sense of cont rol in times of uncertainty; offers role models for suffering (e.g., Jesus); gives divine guidance to believers; provides answers to lifes ultimate, existential questions; provides social support networks.
42 The number of studies on religious coping is sizeable and growing (Ellison et al., 2001; Idler, 1987; King et al., 2005; Koenig, 1997; Koenig et al., 2001; McCullough & Laurenceau, 2005; Neil & Kahn, 1999; Schaie et al., 2004; Weaver et al, 2005; Wink et al., 2005). While research findings on religious c oping vary in the level of sup port found for an effect (Cummings et al., 2003; Ellison et al., 2001; Husaini et al., 1999; Krause, 2003; 2005a; 2005b; 2005c) there is clear evidence that religion posi tively enhances a persons ability to cope with stress. Findings from several studies highlight ar eas of consensus in this larg e body of research. In a crosssectional analysis of data from the Yale Health and Aging Project, Idler (1987) found that church attendance and the number of pe ople known in respondents congreg ation were associated with lower functional disability and fewer symptoms of depression among both male and female noninstitutionalized elders. Kr ause (2003) interviewed African-American and white elders nationwide and found that religiously identified elders had higher levels of life satisfaction, optimism and self-esteem. In a subsequent published report, using data from his 2003 study, Krause (2005a) found that elders who said that they partnered with God to cope with stress had less death anxiety and higher levels of self-esteem, optimism and life satisfaction. Wink et al. (2005) found an effect for the moderating influence of religion on de pression due to poor physical health. Additionally, in a study of el der women Michael, Crowther, Schmid, and Allen (2003) found that religion aided in successfully coping with widowhood. In a review of the medical literature on religions effect on stress related to illness and disease, Koenig (1997) found studies that cited a positive effect of religion on: hypertension, stroke, heart disease, and cancer pa in levels at end stage. Koen ig (1997) also found studies that showed a connection between religious coping and a better recovery from heart and hip surgery (Koenig, 1997). Life expectancies were also found to be higher in the overwhelming majority of
43 studies that examined the relationship between death rates and invol vement in religious activities. It is less clear fr om the research examined by Koen ig (1997) whether results were a direct result of religious commitment or whether h ealthy lifestyles practiced as a part of religious beliefs (e.g., less drinking, better diet, and no cigarette smoking) explained health benefits. More research remains to be done to clarify the c onnection between religios ity, religious identity, health, and wellbeing. Race, Religiosity and Religious Coping This analysis, as suggested by the scope of the narrative data, is limited to an exploration of African American and white meaning making coping in later life. While the empirical, theoretical and historic al literature on religion, religious identity and diverse racial groups religious experiences is indeed important and instructive (Pea, 1997; 1998; 2002), I will limit my review to key features of the literature on re ligiosity that shed light directly on how religion might influence coping responses to stress. This strategy allows me to isolate the principal theses of greatest importance to guiding the present analyses. Intrinsic versus extrinsic religiosity is an im portant distinction made in the literature on religiosity. Originally coined by Allport and Ross (1967), intrinsic and extr insic religiosities are ideal-types that describe motivations for relig ious behavior. Allpor t and Ross (1967) write: Perhaps the briefest way to characterize the tw o poles of subjective re ligion is to say that the extrinsically motivated person uses his religion, whereas the intrinsically motivated lives his religion. (p. 434) Intrinsic religiosity can be desc ribed as a deeply personal experi ence of religion motivated by the desire to forge a relationship with God. Extrin sic religiosity, on the other hand, introduces more utilitarian or instrumental elements, like social standing and sociability, into religious experience. Typically, religious behaviors like prayer, medita tion and scripture reading have been used to operationalize intrinsic religiosity. Church attendance and participa tion in church-related
44 activities are the typical measures of extrin sic religiosity. African-American and white differences in religiosity turn on Allports and Ross intrinsicextrinsic distinction and point researchers in the direction of mechanisms that help to unpack the relationship scientists have repeatedly observed between religion and coping. Perhaps the most consistent finding in the lite rature on religious copi ng pertains to racial differences in religiosity. Studies that compar e white and African Americans typically find that African Americans are more religious and rea lize a greater benefit from religious coping. Researchers have found that religion is an ex tremely important meani ng system among African Americans (Billingsley, 1999; Black, 1999; Cavendi sh, Welch, & Leege, 1998; Frazier, 1974; Krause, 2003; Lincoln & Mamiya, 1990; Paris, 1995; Taylor, Chatters & Levin, 2004). Why might this be the case? Historically, the chur ch has been a very important institution in the African American community. In times of bot h great personal stress and group oppression the church and Christian religion have helped African American people make sense of the world and their place in it. As Stewart (1999) explains, African-American religiosity functions to make sacred black lives that have been profaned, dese crated, and denigrated by the larger culture and society (p. 68). The church was, and to a large degree still is, the only wholly owned and controlled institution in the African-American comm unity. As such, it has assumed a central role in African-American life, ministering to the em otional, psychological and material needs of many. Religion is also important to white Ameri cans but, studies suggest, in a way different from African Americans. Unfortunately, few st udies examine white religiosity and coping as such. Studies that use white, racially homogeneous samples are useful in helping to distinguish the unique aspects of whitea nd African-American religious e xperience and practices. Among
45 these studies, those that examine womens religi ous experiences are especially informative as women are, on average, more religious th an men (Black, 1999; Neill & Kahn, 1999). In a study of religion and life satisfact ion among 51, community dwelling, widowed, white women age 69 to 93, Neill and Kahn (1999) f ound that social or extrinsic religiosity (measured using five items from the King and H unt Dimensions of Religiosity Scale, which measures church attendance and participation in church activities), as opposed to personal or intrinsic religiosity (measured using ten items fr om the Intrinsic Religious Motivation Scale with measures that include activities such as pray er, meditation and Bible reading done by oneself), was significantly related to life satisfaction. For the group of women in Neill and Kahns study (1999), church attendance was a highly salient re ligious experience, as were church social support networks, friends and volunteer activities. It may be that fo r whites religiosity is largely extrinsic or social; an indicator of group solidarity, community, and a marker of social place and individual obedience to social rules and conventions that dist inguishes an embattled identity from those of outgroups (Ammerman, 1987; Emerson & Smith, 2000; Smith, 1998). Black (1999) conducted a similar study of female religiosity among a group of 50, community dwelling, widowed, divorced or se parated African-American women living in poverty, all of whom were over the age of 70. She found that these women expressed a great deal of intrinsic or personal religiosity. Specifi cally, the women in the study said that what they valued most was their personal relationship with God. What the women got from this relationship with God was a fee ling of self-worth and self-est eem and a way to cope with extreme poverty and despair. The women in this study saw themselves in partnership with God and as survivors engaged in a project wherein G od, through His divine pla n, sought to build them up and make them better people, blessing them in th is world and promising to do so in the next.
46 For African Americans religiosity is marked by d eeply personal or intrinsic motivations. That African-American religiosity emerges and derives much of it potency from experiences of bias and discrimination might help to explain why Af rican Americans gain a greater benefit from religious coping: African Americans simply have more practice in usi ng religion to understand and cope with personal issues, loss and crises (Emerson & Christian, 2000). This difference in experience leads to a difference in religious pers pective, practice and c oping response to stress. The findings from these qualitative studies are consistent with those that characterize white and African Americans as being socially (i.e., extrinsically ) and personally (i.e., intrinsically) religious, respect ively (Carr, 2004; Cummings et al., 2003; Husaini et al., 1999; Jang, Borenstein-Graves, Haley, Small, & Mort imer, 2003; Johnson, Matre, & Armbrecht, 1991; Krause, 2003, 2004, 2005a; McAuley, Pecchioni, & Grant, 2000; Musick, 1996; Nelson-Becker, 2004; Schieman, Pudrovska, & Milkie, 2005; Taylor, Chatters, Jayakody, & Levin, 1996; Winseman, 2004). Further, the intrinsic-extr insic distinction between African and white Americans holds among gender and age heterogene ous samples. In a study comparing the devotional practices of African American and whit e Catholics, Cavendish et al. (1998) found that black Catholics had higher leve ls of classical devotional prac tices (p. 401) (e.g., Bible study, prayer and witnessing) and spiritu al experiences than white Catholics. White Catholics, on the other hand, had higher levels of obligatory de votionalism (p. 401) (e.g., attending mass and communion) than black Catholics. Robert Orsis (1985) landma rk study of Italian immigrant Catholics in Harlem suggests similar differences The Italian Catholic s in Orsis study were much more likely to engage in religious practic es that intersected with social concerns around family and community (i.e., this-worldly concer ns) than those that i ndicated a strong personal
47 commitment and devotion to supporting or building the church or spreading the Catholic faith (i.e., other-worldly concerns). Racial differences in religiosity have dire ct implications for research on religion and coping. Not all aspects of religiosity facilitate coping. Research has found that it is personal or intrinsic religiosity that is most closely tied to coping with pr oblems in life (Krause, 2003; 2004; 2005a). Findings from this body of research indicate that, in relation to white Americans, African Americans derive a grea ter coping benefit from personal religious practices and beliefs like prayer, Bible study, strong reli gious beliefs, a close personal relationship with God, and a strong sense of religious meaning in life (Carr, 2004; Cummings et al ., 2003; Husaini et al., 1999; Jang, Borenstein-Graves, Haley, Small, & Mo rtimer, 2003; Johnson et al., 1991; Krause, 2003; 2004; 2005a; McAuley et al., 2000; Musick, 1996; Nelson-Beck er, 2004; Schieman et al., 2005; Taylor et al., 1996; Winseman, 2004). There is also some indica tion that racial differences go beyond personal versus social religiosity. Studies of African-A merican religiosity have found not only differences in kind (i.e., personal versus social religiosity) but quality or depth of religios ity. There are unique aspects of African-American religious belief and practice that suggest d eep, all-encompassing religious devotion. This aspect of African-American religi osity, relative to whites, may be the X-factor responsible for bolstering the effect of religion on coping. Research on African-American religiosity and stress (e.g., illness, disease, racism, well-being, and end of life) (Black, 1999; Ellison & Taylor, 1996; King et al., 2005; Krause 2003; 2004; 2005a; 2005b; Schieman et al., 2005; Shenk et al., 1998) has found that religion buoys mental and physical health and self-rated wellbeing especially when indivi duals: (1) claim a pe rsonal relationship with God, (2) practice
48 conversational forms of prayer and communication with God, (3) believe that there is divine control over their life, and (4) view God as a co-partner in problem solving. Perhaps the utility of deeply personal and highly intrinsic religious practices and beliefs for coping with problems in life explains the growth in evangelical, Charismatic and (Neo) Pentecostal Christian denominati ons in the United States. Both Africanand white-American membership in churches that emphasize em otion, a personal relationship with God and deliverance from hardship and pain has increas ed in the last one hundr ed years (Blumhofer, 1993; Smith, 1998) particularly among those with more education and higher incomes (Ammerman, 1987; Hunt, Hamilton, & Walter, 1997) The advent of the megachurch, large churches with congregations in the thousands and tens of thousands, is a phenomenon driven almost entirely by evangelical, Charismatic and (Neo) Pentecostal Christian religion. While Christian churches remain the most racially segregated places in America on Sunday mornings (Emerson & Smith, 2000), denominational shifts point to the importance of looking at the specific practices and beliefs of people who identify as religious. If researchers ever hope to fully explicate the connection between religion and coping they must move past intrinsicextrinsic religiosity shorthand and attempt to understand religion as both immanent (i.e., grounded in lived experience) and transcendent (i.e ., based on belief in the supernatural) (Pea, 1997; 1998; 2002). Race and social structural factors alone will not explain how religion enhances coping. Racial Identity, Meaning Making and Coping in Later Life The literature on racial identity is vast and ever growing. In this section of the review of literature I have limited myself to studies of Af ricanand white-American racial identity as it pertains to meaning making, stress and coping in life. Research on racial identity has mainly been concerned with the experiences of minor ity children and adolescents. For example,
49 considerable attention has b een paid to the connection be tween African American youths perceptions of discrimination and their psycho logical well-being and healthy transition into adulthood (Tatum, 2003). Unfortuna tely, far less attention has been paid to how Africanand white-American adults particularly older adults construct their r acial identity and how identity interacts with and influences coping with stress and problems in life. Among African-American elders, pu blic health researchers ha ve sought to understand the relationship between perceived r acial discrimination and stress. This literature gives some insight into the importance of racial meaning making on coping by exploring a constellation of outcomes that seem to be linked to stress through African-Americans racial meaning making. Perceived racial discrimination is defined as, the subjective experience of prejudice or discrimination not limited to those experience s that may objectively be viewed as racism. (Clark et al., p. 808, 1999). Perceived racial disc rimination is a state of vigilant anticipation (Pearlin et al., 2005); a form of reflected ap praisal (Felson, 1985; Hughes & Demo, 1989) wherein one feels that others hold disparaging beliefs or attitudes that will inevitably lead to racially discriminatory actions. Perceived di scrimination is an example of racial meaning making: beliefs, expectations, and ideas that orient and guide people, consisting of individuals fundamental ways of construing reality and stru cturing goals that orie nt and motivate them throughout life (Park, 2000). Erro neous or not, perceived racial discrimination works much like W.I. Thomas hypothesized nearly a century ago when he remarked, If men define situations as real, they are real in their conse quences (Thomas & Thomas 1928, p. 572). Perceived racial discrimination is a relatively new and only partially understood construct. Research suggests, however, that perceived discrimination among African Americans has a profound effect on a host of biopsychosocial outcome s related to stress. For example, studies
50 have found a link between distrust of healthcare providers and perceptions of racism (Blankenau et al., 2000). Studies have also noted a relationship between perc eived racial discrimination and medical errors (Kuzel et al., 2004), delayed diagnosis of health problems (Blanchard, 2004), and poor disease management (Mandelblatt et al., 20 02). Research has also found a relationship between perceptions of discriminatory treatmen t and poor mental health (Brown et al., 1999), hypertension (Din-Dzietham et al., 2004), and hear t disease (Krause, 2005b) Racial cognitions have a powerful impact on experience. How might this research inform our thinki ng on the relationship between racial meaning making, stress and coping in later life? Hughes and Demo (1989) argue th at the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1950s and 1960s en couraged and increase d racial self-esteem among African Americans. The successes of these social movements not only increased expectations of fairness among African Americans, but led to feelings of fraternal deprivation. Fraternal deprivation is a collective malaise th at shadows African-American experience; a kind of collective dissatisfaction with problems that undermine racial progress and equality. Fraternal deprivation is born of intransi gent racism and casts a pall ove r every aspects of AfricanAmerican life. Always turned on and tuned in to racial offense, fraternal deprivation operates as a defense mechanism. For African Americans with a strong sense of racial group or selfidentity, racial hyper-vigilance is the norm and racial discrimi nation becomes ever present and hard to ignore. High expectations for fair tr eatment, combined with the belief that America continually falls short of it promis es of equal treatment for all, is a recipe for stress. What remains to be explored is whether African-Ame rican racial hyper-vigilance facilitates or undermines coping with stress, and how.
51 Much less research exists on how white racial identity influences coping with stress and problems in life. It has only been in the last fi ve to ten years that attention has been paid to whiteness or white racial iden tity (Bell, 1993; Delgado & Stefan cic, 1997; Lipsitz, 1998) as a topic of study. I have not been ab le to locate any literature that sp ecifically looks at the influence of white racial identity on stress, crises and c oping. However, one piece of research that comes close to examining white racial identity and coping is Nelson-Beckers (2004) comparison of Jewish and African-America n elder coping styles. In a mixed methods examination of community dwelling elders (n = 75), age 58 to 92, living in four elder adult high-ri ses in a Midwestern city, Nels on-Becker (2004) found that only the Jewish elders mentioned discrimination (e.g., World War II) as a source of stress. Even though the African-American elders in the sample lived through the Jim Crow era (some in the South, no less), curiously, race was not mentioned as part of a matrix of stressors that elders recalled in talking about problem in their lives. African-American elders in the sample seemed to be very pragmatic, expecting no mo re than the racial status quo. This finding can be understood using the meaning making coping model. Because African-American elders appraisals of discriminatory events did not challenge their beliefs and expectations about race a nd race relations, few instances stood out as particularly stressful. Having lived through the Jim Crow era, these elders racial cogni tions were shaped by virulent racism formally and informally woven into ever y aspect of American society and culture. Hughes and Demo (1989) hypothesis of fraternal deprivation would not fit many of the very old elders in Nelson-Beckers (2004) sample who were adults during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and benefited far less from its successes than those in younger cohorts. For these elders, expectations for racial equality a nd fairness may have been low. For the Jewish
52 elders in Nelson-Beckers (2004 ) study, white racial or ethnic (as well as religious) meaning making was far more idealistic, perhaps shaped by centuries-old experiences of religious intolerance that had been gr afted into Jewish consciousness. For the Jewish elders, discrimination was not only something they had experienced, but something they believed they could and should personally fight and overcome. The Nelson-Becker (2004) study also provide s insight into how racial meaning making might be connected to the choice of coping responses to stress. African-Americans elders in the study were more likely than Jewish elders to use religi on as a means to cope with stress. Who, from the African-American perspective, but an omnipotent God would have the power to defeat the long standing, endemic problems of white s upremacy in America? Jewish elders, on the other hand, were more likely to rely upon person al resources (i.e., savi ngs, self-determination and personal skills) to cope with ra cial stress. For the Jewish elde rs the belief seemed to be that through concerted personal effort, planning and sacrif ice, positive results could be achieved. It is not clear from Nelson-Beckers (2004) report of this finding that this is not religious coping. Certainly though it is less overt a religious response to stress than what was observed in the case of the African-American elders participating in the study. Why a religious and ethnic minority, would not resort to religion to c ope with religious discrimination is an issue in need of further exploration. Though many questions remain, the findings from Nelson-Beckers (2004) research hint at important differences in racial meaning making that influence what events or experiences elders define as stressful, how they respond to stress, and why they choose the coping responses they do. Needless to say much more research attention needs to be devoted to white elder racial identity. While universalizing identities, like whiteness, are being theori zed and interrogated as
53 to its relationship to power a nd privilege, little is being done to make explicit the unique, nonhegemonic characteristics of white racial identity that exist outsid e or along side of the exercise of white skin privilege, prejud ice, and discrimination. Unless one subscribes to the untenable position that white subjectivity is essentially about the exercise of power (and as a corollary that African-American subjectivity is essentially about victim status) the extant research on white racial identity is insufficient. Researchers must begin to investigate how white Americans construct their pers onal life narrative around race and how it is used to make sense of the world and orient beliefs, goals and motivations; this is white-American racial meaning making. More must be done to look behind the mirror (Del gado & Stefancic, 1997). This study seeks to make a small contribution in this area. Summary of Extant Literature Several conclusions can be drawn from an anal ysis of the extant l iterature on stress, and religious and racial meaning making in later life. In regards to stress in later life, findings illustrate that micro and macro level factors contribut e to stress in later life. On the micro level, both non-normative (e.g., co-residing adult children, fulltime custodial care giving) and normative (declines in physical health, psychological challenges, changes in social roles) factors must be considered in understa nding the impact of stress in la ter life. Macrostructural factors cannot be ignored; ageism, sexism poverty and race exert a signifi cant influence over the entire life course and may even exacerbate problems in later life. For example, racial biases accumulate into multiple jeopardies that results in di sparities in the risk of disease, illness, loss, stress and crises born by minorities as they age. Studies have consistently shown that minority elders and those in late life have a higher in cidence, earlier onset, and more pernicious and deadly physical and mental health problems than their white peers.
54 Research findings on religion, meaning maki ng and coping indicate that elder Americans are decidedly religious. More so than young and middle aged adults, religion holds a particular salience for elder Americans. While research find ings on religious coping vary in the level of support shown for an effect, the effect is consiste ntly non-trivial. There is clear evidence that religion positively enhances coping with stress. The most consis tent finding in this body of research is that African Americans are more pe rsonally religious or re ligiously devoted than whites and, as a consequence, realize a greater benefit from religious coping. As for studies on racial identity, meaning ma king and coping, a great deal more research exists on African-American racial meaning making, stress and coping. What has been found are a constellation of outcomes that lin k stress to racial identity th rough constructs like fraternal deprivation, racial hyper-v igilance, and perceived discriminati on. More research is needed to explore whether these construc ts facilitate or undermine c oping among African Americans. Further, efforts should be made to study white racial meaning making, outsi de of its relationship to power and privilege, so that the relationshi p between race and coping can be explored among white elders. Conceptual Framework: Coping and Meaning Making Coping and Stress Stress and its effects on i ndividuals and society has b een a longstanding concern of sociologists. As might be suggested by the publication of Suicide by Emile Durkheim in 1897, sociologists, almost from the time of the inception of the discipline, have had a keen interest in describing processes, relationships and situations that dis-ease and vex the human soul. Stress is defined in Merriam Websters Collegiate Dictionary (1993) as, a constraining force or influence. Coping is a response to stress mean t to relieve anxiety and reduce or eliminate its attendant mental (e.g., depressi on) and physical (e.g., hypertensi on) manifestations (Pearlin,
55 1989; Pearlin et al., 1981; Tu rner & Avison, 2003; Turner, Wh eaton, & Lloyd, 1995). As such, coping can be thought of as a corr ective, designed to bring indivi duals back to a self-defined point of stasis or equilibrium. Coping takes many forms and has been describe d using a variety of categories: active and passive coping, positive and negative coping, an d problem and emotion orientated coping, to name only a few. In this study I will expl ore a different understanding of coping meaning making coping a conceptualization of coping th at transcends the aforementioned behavioral dualities, focusing instead on the cognitions or beliefs that undergird coping responses. Meaning Making Coping Cognitive responses to stress emphasize personal agency, judgment, thoughtfulness and dissonance reduction, in other words, a process or system of meani ng making (Schwarzer & Taubert, 2002). Meaning making systems are define d by Park (2000) as, the internal cognitive structures that orient and gui de people, consisting of individuals fundamental ways of construing reality and structuring goals that orient and motivate them throughout life (Park, 2000, p. 1). Religion and race are important mean ing making systems that orient and guide individual and group ideas, belief s, attitudes, emotions and res ponses to stress. Meaning making systems do not make individual responses to stress identical within a gro up, rather they operate as a common epistemological reservoir from wh ich people derive ways to interpret and respond to stressful life experiences. The meaning making coping model does not view coping as a discrete component of a decontextualized, unidirectional, linear process. Rather, meani ng making coping is part of an iterative process wherein individu als are actively engage d in making sense of the world and their place in it. Meaning making coping involves ne gotiating a fit between the demands imposed by a given social context and an individuals beli efs, goals and motivations. Accordingly, an
56 individuals beliefs about hersel f, individually and as a member of society, as well as her perceptions of the world and the ex igencies of a given social cont ext, guide responses to stress, indeed, whether stress is percei ved in the first place. Figure 2-1 depicts the recursive and situated quality of meaning making coping. Crises are interpreted through the individual s salient meaning making system s. While race and religion are key meaning making systems in this analysis other meaning systems, like age and gender, are also relevant. This study is not a test of Pa rks (2000; 2005) meaning making coping model as a process. The data for this study would not permit me to ex amine coping from the incidence of stress to appraisal to problem resolution. In this study I am primarily concerned with exploring and developing a better understanding of one importa nt facet of Parks coping model, namely meaning making. By unpacking the concept of meaning making, researcher s gain insight into a range of cognitive adaptations in later life (e.g., coping with stress due to illness, bereavement or disability). Delving into the substance of meaning making systems like religion and race helps us to work out the background assumptions of Parks model how individuals and groups (e.g., Christians, white Americans) define and re spond to stress, how even t appraisals are made, what responses to stress are selected, how responses are crafted and implemented, and how coping responses are justified. Examining what events elders appraise as stressful and how elders say they have responded to loss, problem s and crises through the framework of religious and racial meaning is helpful in understanding just how meaning making coping works. Greater insight into elder meaning making coping will help researchers, and those who work with elders, pinpoint some of the ways religion and race might either undermine or contribute to a renewed
57 sense of wholeness and restored equilibrium in the midst of stressful life events. That is the goal of this research. According to Park (2000; 2005), meaning ma king coping centers on two criteria: (1) a subjective appraisal of the meani ng of an event and, (2) a compar ison of the event appraisal to beliefs and goals inherent in salient meaning ma king systems. Figurativ ely, event appraisal and meaning making systems can be thought of as o ccupying the balances of a scale; as long as events do not overwhelm mean ing systems, throwing the re lationship between appraised experiences and meaning systems off balance, events are not defined as stressful. It is only when an events appraised meaning challenges peoples basic goals and assumptions about the world (p. 1) that it is deemed a stressful event. Stressful events present an opportunity for meaning making coping responses. Meaning making coping, a cognitive adaptation to stress, takes one of three forms according to Park (2000; 2005): (1) re defining or reappraising the stress-producing event; (2) redefining the meaning making system(s), beliefs and goals; or (3) redefining both the stress-producing event and the meaning making system(s). Certainly all stressful events are not alike. Th e level of stress associ ated with an event is contingent upon the extent to which it undermines beliefs and goals inte gral to meaning making systems. For example, a person who has lost thei r spouse to a violent hate crime would construe that event as very stressful and traumatic b ecause it both devastates beliefs (e.g., in Gods protection, racial justic e and fairness) and makes certain goals completely unachievable (e.g., spousal relationship, living free of racial persecution). Alterna tively, hearing a racial epithet yelled in a public place might be perceived as less stressful when it not taken as a serious challenge to beliefs (e.g., intrinsic worth of ev ery human being, racial pride) and does not limit the pursuit of desired goals (e.g., use a nd enjoyment of public facilities).
58 Limitations of the Extant Literature Two categories of limitations emerge from the review of literature: methodological and theoretical. Methodological Limitations Existing s tudies rely heavily on quantitative long itudinal and cross-sectional data and analytic techniques. Qua litative approaches have much to offe r. Qualitative analysis techniques are uniquely equipped to explor e concepts like meaning making and coping from a grounded perspective (Charmaz 2006; Emerson, 2001). This al lows the point of view of the respondent (and the data) to take center stage and frees th e researcher to unpack novel findings in a way that is outside the scope of even the most sophisticated quant itative techniques. Qualitative methods of analysis also have the added benefit of contribu ting to theory development. Theoretical Limitations Several suggestions for im proving theoretical m odels emerge from the review of extant literature. Future studies on the relationship between religious and racial meaning making and coping with problems in later life s hould attempt to describe and clarify what problems elders say they find stressful in later life and why; the relationship between the kind of problem, th e contexts in which it is experienced and its timing and the choice of coping responses; how elders invoke meaning making systems to c ope with problems as well as to explain problems and coping responses, generally. This proposed research will attempt to address the methodological and theoretical shortcomings of previous research. Because this is an analysis grounded in narrative accounts, I will forgo the convention of stating hypotheses be fore discussing study findings. This decision leaves me open to more fully explore the subject matter as well as anticipated and unanticipated themes and processes (Charmaz, 2006). The fo llowing chapter describes the methodology used
59 in this analysis including a de tailed description of the data, methods of analysis and study limitations. Chapter Four descri bes study findings that emerged fr om an analysis of the data.
60 Table 2-1. Percentage of population by age: 1900-2000 United States Census Age Year 14 15-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65 1900 34.4 19.6 15.9 12.1 8.4 5.3 4.1 1910 32.1 19.7 16.5 12.7 9.1 5.5 4.3 1920 31.7 17.7 16.2 13.4 9.9 6.2 4.7 1930 29.3 18.3 15.4 14.0 10.6 6.8 5.4 1940 25.0 18.2 16.2 13.9 11.8 8.0 6.8 1950 26.8 14.7 15.8 14.2 11.5 8.8 8.1 1960 31.1 13.4 12.7 13.4 11.4 8.7 9.2 1970 28.5 17.4 12.3 11.4 11.4 9.1 9.9 1980 22.6 18.8 16.4 11.3 10.1 9.6 11.3 1990 21.6 14.8 17.4 15.1 10.1 8.5 12.6 2000 21.4 13.9 14.2 16.0 13.4 8.6 12.4 +/over 100 years -13.0 -5.7 -1.7 3.9 5.0 3.3 8.3 Source: United States Census Bureau. (2006). Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007 Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govern ment Printing Office (p. 7).
61 Figure 2-1. Meaning making model of coping. (Park 2005, p. 709) Religious Identity Racial Identity Age Identity Other Meaning Systems Appraisal of stressor Meaning Making Coping 1. Redefine the situation; 2. Redefine the meaning system; or 3. Redefine the situation and the meaning system Appraisal challenges meaning system Appraisal does not challenge meaning system Meanin g S y stems Stressor resolved A pp raisal Co p in g /Resolution
62 CHAPTER 3 METHODOLOGY Study Overview This analysis explores the role of two si gnificant meaning making systems in coping with problems in life: religion (Christian ity) and racial identity (Afri can and white American). Using data from a convenience sample of 16 semi-struc tured interviews where elders were asked to recall unpleasant events th at occurred in the previous week, m onth, year and their entire life, I explore how older African Americans (n = 7) and whites (n = 9) (age 55 to 82 years old) graft meaning onto problems and crises in life through their coping responses to stress. Three interrelated questions are expl ored in this analysis: what problems do elders say they have experienced in life? how do elders say that they have coped with problems in life? what religious and/or racial meaning making coping process ha ve elders adopted to cope with problems in life? In regards to Parks (2000; 2005) model of mean ing making coping, I am not so much interested in testing this model by specifying elders processe s of coping as I am with exploring how elders used religious and/or racial meaning making to cope with problems in life. Sample Data Data for this research com e from a st udy conducted by Dr. Monika Ardelt (2003, 2005a). Ardelts study was an exploratory investiga tion of wisdom in a population of community dwellings elders in the Southeastern United St ates. The goal of that study was to understand how wise and low wisdom elders cope with crisis and to test a scale designed to measure the cognitive, reflective and affective dimensions of wisdom. Responde nts were interviewed between December 1997 and December 1999. A tota l of 180 elders completed a preliminary
63 survey. From these surveys 40 elders who scored either high (n = 12), medium (n = 18) or low (n = 10) on the wisdom scale were selected to participate in semi-structured interviews. In the semi-structured interviews Ardelts st udy participants were asked about the most pleasant and unpleasant events that they experienced during the pr evious week, month, year and in their entire life and what they did to cope with unpleasant events (see Appendix A: Interview Questions). Respondents were not told the purpose of the study in order to discourage socially desirable responses. Interviewers were also blinded to the study purpose. I was blinded to each interviewees wisdom scale scores to avoid biasin g my analysis. After the analysis was complete I integrated respondents wisdom scores into the write-up of the analysis. The present study uses sixteen of Ardelts fo rty semi-structured inte rviews: seven AfricanAmerican elders (3 female and 4 male) and nine white-American elders (5 female and 4 male). Two of the interviews of African-American elde rs are from a related study conducted by Ardelt and were incorporated into this analysis in or der to increase the size of the African-American sample and to balance the gender ratio within this group. Only porti ons of the interview transcripts from these two cases that ask res pondents about the most pleasant and unpleasant events that they experienced during the previous week, month, year and in their entire life, and what they did to cope with unpleasant events, are included in this analysis. With the exception of the two cases noted above interviews were selected for this study based on relatively extreme scores on intrinsic a nd extrinsic religious orientation (Allport and Ross, 1967). Intrinsic and extrin sic religiosities are ideal-types meant to represent religious motivation at the poles of a behavioral and a ttitudinal continuum. Allport and Ross (1967) define intrinsic religiosity as an orientati on where the master motive (p. 434) is religion, internalized and lived everyday. An extrinsic religious orienta tion emphasizes an instrumental
64 or utilitarian approach to re ligion. A concern for sociability, community and church standing and security distinguish extrinsi c religiosity from intrinsic reli giosity (p. 434). In selecting respondents with only the most extreme scale scores I sought pure cases of these ideal types. Numerical religiosity scores from Ardelts investigation were changed to nominal scores of either high (H) or low (L) intrinsic or extrinsic religiosity In Ardelts study (2003, 2005a) a score of 4.0 or higher was the cut-off point for a h igh religiosity score. In this study I use a lower cut-off of 3.5 (or higher = high; less than 3.5 = low) in order to introduce variability into this small sample. Since I only looked at cases among the forty with extreme scores on the religiosity scale, it was a fairly straightforward matte r to recode scores as e ither high or low. Because religiosity scores will not be used in any kind of statistical analysis and the central aim of this study is to explore, qualitatively, the s ubstance of respondents ex periences as narrated in the interviews, I believe the effect of adopti ng this more lenient standard is minimal. In making the final selection of cases fo r this study, I sought a good mix, within and between races, of paired religiosity scores (see Table 1 and 2 for details). Of the 16 interviews selected for this analysis: four had high scores on both intrinsi c and extrinsic religiosity (HH), eight had a high score on intrin sic religiosity and a low score on extrinsic religiosity (HL), none of the 16 selected (or among the forty semi -structured interviews ) had a low score on intrinsic religiosity and a high score on extrin sic religiosity (LH), and two had a low score on both intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity (LL). Two interviews in the African-American sample (from the second Ardelt study) did not have scores for intrinsic and extrinsi c religiosity and were selected because there were very few African-American males who participated in Ardelts forty semi-structured interviews.
65 The goal of this analysis is to identify themes as they emerge from each, individual narrative. While I am not attempting to make cross-racial comparisons between samples, or correlate scale or demographic measures with responses, it is useful to note similarities and difference within and between the African-Ame rican and white-American samples on these measures (see Table 1 and 2). There is some racial variation in relig iosity scores among the samples by race: three African Americans scored high on both kinds of religiosity (HH); only one interviewee in the white sample shares this characteristic. Among white interviewees, six scored high on intrinsic religiosity and low on extrinsic religiosity (HL), as do two African Americans. Two interviewees in the white sa mple, and none in the African-American sample scored low on both measures of religiosity (LL). Demographically the samples vary in several respects (see Table 1 and 2 for details). Both samples are fairly well balanced by gender. Levels of socioeconomic status and education are evenly distributed within each group; how ever white interviewees have a mix of high, medium and low SES and education level, whil e African Americans ar e divided between high and low SES and graduate and high school or lower education. Within the white-American sample no respondents have very low education le vels (no high school) while three interviewees do in the African-American sample. Marital status is very different between African Americans and white Americans: five respondents in the wh ite sample are married, while only two AfricanAmerican interviewees indicat e having a spouse. Lastly, the age range among the whiteAmerican sample is slightly hi gher (55 to 82 years old) than among the African-American (61 to 85 years old) sample. That this study uses a small, convenience sample might be viewed as a serious limitation. Are the study findings generalizable? Whittemore, Chase and Mandle (2001, p. 524) clarify this
66 issue: Qualitative research seek s depth over breadth and attempts to learn subtle nuances of life experiences as opposed to aggregate evidence. Qu alitative research is contextual and subjective versus generalizable and objective. The sample of interviews used in this analysis is not meant to be demographically representative. Nor is the purpose of this study, or any qualitative analysis, to provide standardized measures or findings that can be applied, wholesale, to similar populations. As best could be achie ved, I tried to select a balanced mix of interviewees based on both demographic information and religiosity scale scores (given that I was only interested in extreme high and low scores). Lack of generali zability is not a threat to this study; as a qualitative inquiry the goal of th is research is to explore, them atically, how religious and racial meaning making influence coping responses to stress. Any conclusions drawn from this analysis are not meant to be generalized to larger popula tions. However, findings from this research might be generalizable to people with characteristic similar to the elders in this study. The findings from this study might al so be useful in grounding future quantitative inquiry and theory development. Method of Analysis I received the interview data for this study in the form of transcriptions contained in computer files. The interviews were transc ribed verbatim for the primary study (Ardelt, 2003, 2005a); while I did not personally verify the accur acy of the transcription, those who worked on the study before me did. Each tr anscript bore an inte rviewee identification number, the date of the interview, and the time of day the interview wa s tape recorded (see Table 3). In most cases the name of the interviewer was also included; in some cases, however, this information was missing from the transcript and wa s obtained from Dr. Ardelt. Fict itious names were substituted for identification number in the analysis. For th e most part, interviews were conducted at the place of residence of elders or at senior centers and lasted from 30 minutes to an hour (this did
67 not vary by interviewer); unfortunately this info rmation was not recorded for each interview. From the transcript I was able to determine th at each interviewer engaged in a conversational style of interviewing, offering prob es where needed for clarifica tion, stopping when interruptions took place, offering personal information about th emselves in order to establish rapport and allowing interviewees to interpre t questions as they best unders tood them. Interviewers also stayed close to the list of questions and each in terviewer stated the question the same way. For every interviewer, the interview was ended only when every questi on had been asked and answered. I made a few minor changes in font and form atting to several transcripts to make them easier to read. However, without exception, each transcri bed interview was ready for analysis at the time I received it. All notes and coding on th e individual transcripts were done in Microsoft Word using the text highli ghting and comment functions. Constructivist grounded theory methods (C harmaz, 2006) were used to analyze and extract themes from the interview data. Char mazian grounded theory methods evolve from the originators of the method, Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss (Glaser and Strauss, 1967). While Charmazs method of grounded theory very much reflects the spirit of Glaser and Strauss explication of the method, th ere are important differences. Charmaz (2006) describes the essential feature of constructivist grounded theory method as follows: In the classic grounded theory works, Glaser and Strauss talk about discovering theory as emerging from data separate from the scien tific observer. Unlike their position, I assume that neither data nor theories are discovered. Rather, we ar e part of the world we study and the data we collect. We construct our grounded theories through our past and present involvements and interactions with people, perspectives, and rese arch practices. My approach explicitly assumes that any theoretical rendering offers an interpretive portrayal of the studied world, not an exact picture of it. (p.10) The goal of the constructivist grounded theory method is to identify processes embedded in experience by privileging the perspective of th e study subject. This is accomplished by first
68 assuming, not that the truth is out there waiting to be discovered, but rather that there are shades or approximations of the truth present in lived experience that can be used to reconstruct, induce, and generate theories of why people behave and be lieve as they do. The scientist is able to add to our understanding of people and processes not becau se she is an expert but rather because she is a human being assuming an empathic and intu itive stance toward the subject of study. The key question to ask when using the constr uctivist grounded theory method is, What is happening here? This method is suitable for the present study as I am primarily concerned with exploring coping and meaning making processes. Constructivist methods offer a flexible approach to data analysis that allows researchers to explor e how study participants meaning and actions are interpreted and lived in varied situations and social structural contexts (p. 11). To start the analysis of the data, the interv iew transcripts were read through several times to get a general feel of the scope and content. No attempt was made before the analysis began to construct coding criteria or a coding scheme. Consistent with the grounded theory method, all themes emerged from the actual interview data; that is, the data determined the codes. The data were not made to fit preset codes derived from a review of the extant research literature. Grounded analysis of the transcript data pro ceeded in three steps: line by line coding, focused coding and the development of conceptual categories. In the line by line coding of the transcripts I started with sensitizing concepts al lied to the research a nd interview (see Appendix A: Interview Questions) questions. The sensitiz ing concepts were: prob lems in life (unpleasant events experienced in the last week, month, year and entire life); ge neral coping strategies (where neither religion nor race are mentioned); and, meaning making coping strategies where the interviewee mentions religious and/or race. While these sensitizing concepts guided line coding, they had to earn their way into the analysis In other words, if they did not fit the data,
69 they would have been abandoned. All of the sens itizing concepts proved useful, mainly because the interviews stayed pretty cl ose to these topics; rarely, if ever, did conversations with study participants stray from these areas. When the interview text suggest ed any of these concepts, I se lected it out for coding. In order to formulate a code I would read and rere ad small sections of interview text where the sensitizing concept had emerged, and then I would ask myself (Ardelt, 2005b): What is happening here? What is the person saying? Wh at is the person taking for granted? What structures, contexts or situat ions are having an influence? Using the comment function of Microsoft Word I would then use active words or gerunds and in vivo concepts (the actual words of the interviewees) to describe these lines of the text. After completing the line by line coding on all of the interviews I reviewed and compared the lists of codes and rearranged and consolidated rela ted codes into more general, abstract focused codes. The goal at this stage of the analysis was to construct a coding framework that would cover larger portions of data and more th an just one interviewees experiences. These codes were more analytical than the descriptive li ne codes that emerged from an analysis of each individual interview. At the end of this process I would go b ack and compare the focused codes to the line codes in each transcript: comparing between interviews and individual experiences. Using this comparative method I was able to fu rther refine and qualify the focused codes. Lastly, from the focused codes I developed conc eptual categories. Conceptual categories dig into implicit, unstated and condensed meaning by consolidating focused codes. Conceptual categories are more abstract than focused code s and lie closer to theory. The purpose of conceptual categories are to (1) explain properties of the focused codes; (2) specify conditions under which focused codes arise, endure and change; (3) describe proce sses; and (4) show how
70 conceptual categories are related to one another. In this study conceptu al categories emerged as themes or analytic categories of data for each sensitizing concept: problems in life (unpleasant events experienced in the last week, month, year and entire life); ge neral coping strategies (where neither religion nor race are mentioned); and, meaning making coping strategies where the interviewee mentions religious and/or race. As in the prev ious stage of focused coding, as conceptual categories emerged I compared them to line codes in the individual interviews and focused code framework. Using constant compar ison I sought out negative cases or those that did not fit the emerging conceptual categories; th is allowed me to develop themes that fit the interview data and abandon those that replicated others or ha d what seemed to be minimal explanatory power (Ardelt, 2005b). Codes are presented here as independent; however, it is important to note that codes are arti ficial in the sense that they seek to capture, in snapshot form, events and reflections that are fluid and dynamic. Coded themes often bleed into one another. A limitation of using grounded theory methods on s econdary data is that it is impossible to return to the field, query interviewees or confir m tentative findings with additional observations. This limitation made comparison within and betw een transcribed narrativ e accounts all the more important to this analysis. The findings that emerge from this st udy are the result of a constant comparative method, the goal of which was to distill from the in terview accounts common themes and to identify coping processes. To th e extend that interviewees are asked to reflect on their problems and coping responses in four dist inct time period across th e life course, the data do a good job of capturing problems elders experi ence and general, as well as, religious and racial meaning making coping processes. Throughout the entire period of data analysis I engaged in memo writing, primarily to help me see the data, not as a list of discrete codes bu t more as a set of processes and patterns. To
71 facilitate this I maintained a visual aid (a di agram representing the line, focused and conceptual codes) that I used to depict findings diagrammatically. Exhaustion of relevant themes, or saturation (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), was determin ed after multiple readings of the interview transcripts yielded no new thematic content. These themes were then compared to the extant literature; findings are pr esented in Chapter Four.
72 Table 3-1. African-American sample (n = 7) Interviewee Intrinsic religiosity Extrinsic religiosity Sex Age SES Education Marital status Debra High High Female 61 Low No high school Missing Sarah High High Female 72 High Graduate degree Widowed Paul High High Male 69 Low High school Married Dinah High Low Female 73 High Graduate degree Divorced Jerome High Low Male 68 High Graduate degree Never married Patrick1 Not measured Not measured Male 85 Low No high school Widowed Stephen1 Not measured Not measured Male 74 Low No high school Married 1This case comes from an unpublished study conducted by Ardelt.
73 Table 3-2. White-American sample (n = 9) Interviewee Intrinsic religiosity Extrinsic religiosity Sex Age SES Education Marital status Ruth High High Female 81 Low High school Widowed Mary High Low Female 68 High Graduate degree Married Rebecca High Low Female 71 MediumBachelors degree Married Abe High Low Male 65 MediumBachelors degree Divorced Joseph High Low Male 69 High Graduate degree Married Aaron High Low Male 75 High Graduate degree Married Peter High Low Male 79 Low High school Widowed Naomi Low Low Female 55 High Graduate degree Married Leah Low Low Female 82 Low Bachelors degree Widowed
74 Table 3-3. Interview information Interviewer Interviewer race Interviewer sex Date of interview Interviewee Lisa White Female 10/26/98 Rebecca Lisa White Female 12/14/98 Joseph Lisa White Female 01/07/99 Naomi Lisa White Female 01/21/99 Aaron Lisa White Female 01/30/99 Mary Lisa White Female 02/18/99 Paul Lisa White Female 04/07/99 Abe Lisa White Female 04/09/99 Peter Lisa White Female 05/05/99 Leah Lisa White Female 05/13/99 Sarah Lisa White Female 05/13/99 Debra Lisa White Female 12/21/99 Ruth Yvonne African American Female 11/30/98 Dinah Yvonne African American Female 01/29/99 Jerome Mark White Male 04/19/01 Patrick Mark White Male 07/23/01 Stephen
75 CHAPTER 4 FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION What Problems Do Elders Say Th ey Have Experienced In Life? From the review of the literatu re on stress and aging we have learned that there are a host of factors that contribute to stress in later life. Changes in social roles and networks, declines in physical health, and psychological problems, so me unique to elders, have the potential of inducing stress by producing loss and crisis in later life. In addition, macrosocial stressors in the form of ageism, sexism, poverty and racism negatively condition the environment in which people live out the life course a nd experience middle, old and oldest old age. Unfortunately, as instructive and indispensable as the research on aging and stress is, it tells us very little about what elders, from their own perspective, feel are the problems of later life. What problems do elders say they have experienced in the pr evious week, month, and year and how do these compare to problems experienced in their entire lifetime? What incidents in life do elders identify as being the most unpleasant? Do the problems elders identify re flect the same issues described in the research lit erature on aging and stress? Identifying events as problematic or unpl easant may seem like a relatively mundane matter of little theoretical consequence or importance. In light of the meaning making coping model, however, it is very important that we understand problem identification as a cognitive clue that points to an indivi duals fundamental ways of constr uing reality and structuring goals that orient and motivate them throughout life (P ark, 2000, p. 1). Problem identification happens as a result of what Parks (2000) describes as the two criteria of meaning making or cognitive coping: (1) subjective appraisal of an event, a nd (2) comparison of appraisals to beliefs and goals. Circumstances are only construed as proble matic when they challenge beliefs and goals. Problem identification is, therefor e, an indication that circumstan ces, events or incidences have
76 disturbed personal expectations, needs, motiv ations or, more generally, meaning making systems. What circumstances individuals iden tify as problems, hints at how people situate themselves in the world by illuminating aspects of identity that they feel are threatened. By examining elders discussions of their problems, and what these discussions suggests are their most salient meaning making systems, this study is able to ground exploration of aging, stress and coping in the actual lived experi ences of older people (Charmaz, 2006). How Unpleasant or Problematic Events are Discussed By far the most comm on initial response to th e question, What were the most unpleasant events that you experienced during the last week/month? was denying having had any unpleasant events to report. Elders justified or excused their failure to respond to the question in several ways. Many elders saw th e question as an invitation to complain about their lives and few wanted to do this. Elders would often express embarrassment or frustration at not being able to list an event or circumstance that they found unpleasant. In an effort to make respondents comfortable the interviewer would allow them to a dd events they recalled later in the interview. However, few did this as they seemed truly relu ctant to talk about negative events. Problems experienced over longer periods (p ast year or entire life) elicite d responses far more readily. To the shorter term query (past week or m onth) some elders res ponded by stating that unpleasant is a relative quality. These elders would compare their lives to their friends, family members or associates of the same ag e and conclude that they were doing pretty well and had little reason to compla in. Paul, a married 69-year old African-American man with low socioeconomic status and a high school diploma expressed this sentim ent in the following excerpt:
77 Well, in a way, you stick with what they give you, you know. I don't feel any way disgruntled about being in the retirement age. I'm just glad to get here, you know. 'Cause I know a lot of friends of mine that didn't get this far, and some made it right around the corner and then you know, it's just one thing or the other. (#19004, p. 7) Some elders felt that what unpleasantness they experienced in life was trivial or of no consequence because, they reasoned, everyone has problems. Others saw identifying events as unpleasant as poor social etiquette, bad luck, or as an indication of a lack of thankfulness; complaining about past events, they opine d, was gossip, tempting fate, or blasphemy. Sarah, a highly educated, 72-year old, widowed African-American woman of high socioeconomic status, felt very strongly about no t being judged a negative person or being seen as someone who spoke negatively about others (which she equa ted with discussing unpleasant events in life). For Sarah, such behavior is irreligious and shows a lack of thankfulness and appreciation of Gods blessings in her life. This is a philosophy of Sarahs that she indicated she sticks with always. At the end of an interv iew in which Sarah disc ussed several unpleasant events that occurred in her life, including the d eaths of both parents, her spouse, an infant child, and her sisters Alzheimers disease, the inte rviewer asked Sarah to sum up her experiences: Um, I can't think of anything. I'm not a person that goes and talks unpleasant with people. I don't know anybody that I dislike or hate. But I'm not a person that, if I have some tough problem or something, then I'm a ll in my neighbors, or what-not worrying about it. I'm not that type of person. And recently, I've gotten the name of being longwinded, but it's not about other people. Not th eir business, because I try to stay out of that. (#12006, p. 22-23) Elders very often expressed feeling blessed by God or lucky for what material resources they had, the level of health th ey maintained or the successes of their children and family. Talking about unpleasantness was seen as a way to undermine these blessings or good luck and bring about misfortune. From a ll of these various justifications for initially having no unpleasant events to report, what comes through in the interviews is elders thankfulness. Across demographic criteria like socioeconomic and edu cational level, despite health challenges, the
78 presence or absence of familial support or extended social networks, elders stated again and again how thankful they were for their current stat us in life. This sentiment is evident in the comment of 81-year old Ruth, a widowed wh ite-American woman with low socioeconomic status and a high school educat ion, whose simple gratitude de monstrates a perspective of thankfulness. Asked about the pleasant even ts of the previous week Ruth remarks: Getting up every morning. Waking up to think that its a beautif ul world. How many women at my age can get up and say, "Hey, I can walk!" (#22001, p. 1-2) Or Patrick, a widowed African-American man, with low socioeconomic status and no high school education, in his eighth de cade, who when asked about unpleas ant things in the previous year responded: Patrick: Well, I dont know nothing bad happened to me in the past year. Interviewer: Thats good. Its been a good year. Patrick: Yeah, and its been a good year, and I thank God for it. I thanks the Lord every day for my life. Sure enough. Ye s sir, I sure enough do. (#35001, p. 23) What researchers and practitioners can le arn from elders reluctance to talk about unpleasant events is that elders n eed to be invited to speak about their problems in such a way that they dont feel that they appear judgmental, whining or complaining; this is especially so when the person elders are speaking to about their difficulties is a stranger or someone who is not an age peer. Debra, a 61-year old African -American woman of low socioeconomic status and no high school degree (marital status missing ) spoke of the comfort she feels around people her own age who understand her and are able to se parate the complaint from the complainer. When asked about pleasant events in the last week Debra states, Ah, going to the elders club on Tuesday. I enj oy that because we get together, and we eat together, and we talk, talk that older people talk, you know, we can relate to one another. Better than you would if you were ta lking to a younger person. (#18004, p. 1)
79 Debra expressed the need for familiarity and comf ort, that is, having someone available to her that is able to understand her and her experience s as an older person. Debra feels that a person has to have walked in her shoes to know her; there is a shared understanding or empathy among age peers that comes with aging and the experiences of later life. As the findings below will illu strate, it is not the case that elders have no problems in later life. On the contrary, reluctance to discuss unpleasant even ts or denying having experienced unpleasant incidences is a way elders situate themselves within what is perceived as the precariousness of later life. No one wa nts to jinx that fine balance by entertaining discontentedness or complaining. Talking abou t problems in life is also an opportunity for impression management. What impressions are el ders most concerned about projecting? The appearance of a good (e.g., Godly) and decent pers on who does harm to no one; self-sufficiency and the ability to take care of oneself; and, of someone who has the respect, love and support of family and friends. Talking about unpleasantness, particularly before rapport and trust is established, might well ruin a good impression. Lastly, the reluctance to talk about unpleasantness is an indication of elders sincere thankfulness. Wh at elders appear to need in order to talk about the problems they have experien ced in life is what the interviews detailed here provided: a sincere invitation and opport unity to open-up and speak their piece. Number and Nature of Problems The num ber of problems identified in the inte rview data ranged from a low of three to a high of twenty-four. As indicated in Chapter 3 each respondent was aske d each of the thirteen interview questions. A low number of problems can be taken as an indication of a denial of unpleasant events across one or more of the specified time periods. Tables 4-1 and 4-2 list the number of problems identified by each responde nt along with their religiosity scores and demographic characteristics. The purpose in citing the number of problems discussed in
80 interviews is not to present a statistical analysis of the data; rather, this information is merely meant to give the reader an idea of the di stribution of problems among respondents and to facilitate a rough comparison between them. The goa l of this section of th e paper is to compare problems elders discussed in their interviews with what the extant liter ature on aging and stress indicates are the problems that occur in later life. Problems discussed in the interviews were focused coded (focused codes are analytic codes derived from small segment of interview data) into a total of sixty-eight distinct descriptions (see Table 4-3). The focused codes are distributed among eleven conceptual codes that condense the meaning of the focused codes. The conceptual codes for problems include: deaths emotional or psychological problems employment or educational problems family problems financial problems illness and medical care problems minor difficulties in life problems associated with getting older racial problems religious problems social problems Not only do these conceptual categories condense meaning, they also facilitate comparisons within and between respondents. I will use these problem conceptual categories to examine elder recollections of problems, religios ity scores, and demographic characteristics. Recalling Problems in Life The greatest numbers of problems were discussed when elders were asked to recall the most unpleasant events experienced in their entire life. Unplea sant events experienced in the short-term, i.e. in the previous week, month or year, include mainly illness and medical care issues, financial problems, emotional or psychol ogical distress, family problems, and social
81 grievances or concerns. Problems, as severa l respondents noted, are re lative. However, one might reasonably expect that more recent unpleasant incidents stand out; sore feelings remain or go unresolved making shorter term problems more readily recalled and more likely to be mentioned, than those experienced in the distant past. Do more distant problems lose their sting? Is time a powerful enough factor to erode an unpl easant appraisal of an event and allow for a more neutral perspective? From an analysis of the interview data, the answer to these two questions appears to be no. A greater numb er of significant problems accumulate over the course of a lifetime and elders were more inclin ed to talk at length a bout problems experienced in the distant past. For the elders in this study it might be easier to talk about distant, unpleasant events while not appearing unthankful, judgmental or like a complainer Too, the unpleasant events experienced over a lifetime and mentioned in the narratives were unmistakably traumatic and life changing deaths, wartime military service, divorces and serious marital difficulties, childhood problems, and serious health issues figu re largely in lifetime accounts of problems. Discussing distant, serious unpleasant events might boost the impression of stoicism, competency and achievement that some elders are careful to cultivat e and project. Problems and Religiosity Fourteen of the sixteen elders in this study had scores for intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity. Of those fourteen elders, two have low scores on both measures; four have high measures on both measures; and eight have a high score on intrinsic religiosity and a low score on extrinsic religiosity. If, as the literature suggests, religious meaning ma king has any effect on a persons appraisal of events in life one might expect that the two respondents whose religiosity scores indicate low intrinsic and extrinsic reli gious motivation and orientation would have the greatest number of events identified as unpleasant (El lison et al., 2001; Idle r, 1987; King et al., 2005; Koenig, 1997; Koenig et al., 2001; Krause, 2003; 2005a; 2005b; 2005c; McCullough &
82 Laurenceau, 2005; Neil & Kahn, 1999; Schaie et al ., 2004; Weaver et al, 2005; Wink et al., 2005). While the number of problems discussed by these two respondents is high (14 and 16) relative to other elders in the sample, their scores are not the highe st number of problems discussed. In addition, the low-low religiosity el ders appear to have experienced the same mix of problems as other elders; thes e elders did not characterize their problems as especially grave or serious. Religiosity appears not to influence the number or nature of problems discussed in the interview narratives. Problems and Wisdom Score W isdom scores were generally homogeneous among the respondents in the study and did not vary with the number or nature of problem s discussed. With the exception of two whiteAmerican males (Abe, age 65 and Peter, age 79) all elders in the study had a medium wisdom score. Other than sharing the same gender, Ab e and Peter had the same religiosity score (HL) and were both unmarried. Abe and Peter differed on socioeconomic status (medium and high, respectively), education (bachelors and high scho ol, respectively), and number of problems discussed (9 and 20, respectively). Gender and Problems in Life Gender stands out as an im portant demographi c characteristic in terms of the number and nature of problems elders discussed experiencing in life. The total number of problems discussed by elders differed by gender: the eight elder women in the study ta lked about a total of 111 different unpleasant events wh ile the eight elder men talked about 70 unpleasant events. The literature on aging and stress identifies several important gendered factors that contribute to stress in later life (AOA, 2002; Calasanti et al., 2006; Hatch, 2005; He ndricks et al., 1999; Michael et al., 2003; Novak, 2006) and these same factors emerged in the present studys conceptual categories. Death (of spouse), family problems, financial issues, job and educational
83 crises, illness and problems in medical care, and the experience of emotional or psychological problems in oneself or close others all showed gendered distinctions among elders. In all of these conceptual categories, with the excep tion of job and educational problems, women discussed more problems than men. Only two men experienced the death of a spouse (while four women experienced a total of seven spousal deat hs); two men discussed two instances of an emotional problem they or a significant othe r had experienced, four women discussed seven instances of an emotional problem. Women id entified more family problems (five women and men discussed 19 and 12 family problems, respec tively) and illness and medical care issues (7 women and men discussed 34 and 17 instances, resp ectively), and three times as many financial problems (4 women and 2 men di scussed 10 and 3 instances, resp ectively). What cannot be determined from the narrative interview data is whether the male respondents lower numbers of problems discussed is attributable to the absen ce of problems, a reluctance to speak about their problems due to constructions of gender that call for being stoic, or gender differences in event appraisal and problem identification. Future research should address this issue. Marital Status and Problems in Life Marital status and the number and nature of problems discussed by elders in the interviews bear some relationship. Seven elders in the study were married and nine were not; within each marital category ge nder was almost evenly divide d among males and females (with the exception of married African Americans who were represente d by two males). Non-married elders discussed more problems than their ma rried peers (117 versus 64); among this group, widowers (n = 5) discussed some of the highest number of problems (ranging from 16 to 24), divorced and never married elders (n = 3), the least (9 or 10). N on-married elders (regardless of specific non-married status) disc ussed more problems having to do with illness and medical care (37 versus 14), emotional or psychological problems (8 versus 1) and family disturbances (22
84 versus 9) two widowers had part icularly high numbers of family disturbances (6 and 9). These findings support the literature th at concludes that marriage provide s partners with an emotional or psychological benefit that enhances late r life (Novak, 2006; Putney & Bengston, 2005; Smith and Moen, 2004). However, there appears to be some economic penalty connected to marriage; married elders discussed more financial proble ms (10 versus 3) than non-married elders. Socioeconomic Status, Education Level and Problems in Life It appears that socioeconomic status and le vel of education make some difference in the number of problems discussed in interviews. Wh en elders with low socioeconomic status and educational achievement (including one responde nt with low SES and a BA degree) were combined with elders with medium socioeconomic status and BA degrees (n = 7 and n = 2, respectively) and compared to elders with high SE S and advanced degrees (n = 7), the number of problems these two groups discussed is comparable (93 versus 88). Differences emerge, however, in the nature of the pr oblems they report in three co nceptual categories: illness and medical care, financial problems and job and educ ational issues. High SES and better educated respondents discuss more problems in these areas : 28 versus 23; 10 versus 3; and, 7 versus 6, respectively. Both high and low/medium SES gr oups mentioned the experience of illness, caring for a friend or family member with a serious illness, and undergoing medical procedures like major surgeries. Importantly though, only the less well off elders mentioned dissatisfaction with their medical care as a problem they experienced in life. None of the low SES and low educated elders (n = 7) mentioned any financial problem s whatsoever. The high and low/medium groups did mention a comparable number of problems ha ving to do with jobs and education, but the poorer elders never discussed e ducational problems and when they discussed jobs it had to do with losing jobs, getting new jobs to supplemen t income and being forced out of retirement by the need for additional money. More well-off a nd better educated elders (medium and high SES)
85 talked about the difficult or bothersome aspects of their career jobs and about their efforts to attain an education. These findings might be explained by Parks (2000; 2005) notion of problem appraisal: people with chronically low resources (e.g., low SE S and education) may have a higher threshold for appraising events as problematic. Alternatively, elders with more resources (high SES and better educated elders) may be more likely to appraise an event as negative that is, complain more, because events occur in a life context where unpleasant events are less frequent. What was also interesting about these findings was that most elders failed to connect their socioeconomic or educational status to instituti onal or macrosocial influences. When material and educational deficits are di scussed by elders, as with achie vements, personal factors (e.g., good/bad luck, perseverance or lack of discipline) are cited as th e reason for success or failure. African-American elders came closest to identif ying social structural factors as having a significant impact in their past and present lives, wh en they discussed the workings of racism and white supremacy. Patrick, a widowed 85-year old, low SES African-American man without a high school education, talked about his experiences of racism and the personal impact of living in the Jim Crow South: Patrick : I cant think of nothing else because, just like I said, time was tight when I come along, Lord, and you had the help (inaudible), because everybody didnt have a chance to go to school like you do now. Times was tight, brot her. The black peop le that live in the county, there was no buses picking them up. They had to walk to school, back when I was coming up. Wasnt no buses to pick up the blacks. No. Interviewer : There were small schools too. Patrick : Yes. When the black schools was running there to Branford, the blacks that live in the county, they had to walk to school. No w its different. A lot of blacks there now, they going to the white schools in Branford. Things are different now. They dont have to walk to school. Interviewer : Did you have experiences that you thought of as where you were dealing with racism when you were growing up?
86 Patrick : Yeah, there was a lot of it, racism back then, because back then you couldnt at these big stores you couldnt go to the bath room. You couldnt drink no water at the fountain. That was rough. Real rough. J ohn F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedys brother, Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Martin Luther Kings mother they lo st their lives trying to make it better for us. They made it better. They bombed a church where them three black girls were killed, you remember? (#35001, p. 30) While white-American elders mentioned the Great Depression as a significant event in their lives, they discussed it as a discrete event th at everyone suffered from and that taught them valuable lessons, like frugality, personal strength a nd how to be content with very little. These elders did not connect the Great Depression, their socioeconomic position or educational achievements with classor wealth-based dispariti es that affected them systematically or as members of a racial or ethnic group. Race and Problems in Life Elders race seem ed to make a difference in the number of problems discussed in the interviews but in ways counter to findings in the literature on aging and race (APA, 1998; Anderson et al., 2004; Bulatao & Anderson, 2004; Cummings et al., 2003; Denny et al., 2005; Kart & Kinney, 2001; Markides et al., 1984; Novak, 2006; Pearli n et al., 2005; Yang & Levkoff, 2005 Zsembik et al., 2000). The nine white-Ameri can elders discussed more problems than the seven African-American elders (115 versus 66). African-America n elders reported only slightly more problems having to do with illness and medi cal care than their white-American peers (27 versus 24). White Americans discussed more financial problems than African Americans (10 versus 3), while job and educational issues were discussed only slightly more by white Americans (8 versus 5). These results may be a ttributable to a greater reluctance among AfricanAmerican elders to discuss personal issues a nd problems. The results might also point to differential problem appraisal (Park 2000; 2005). If financial issues are more commonplace among ones own or extended family and associates they may be less likel y to be appraised as
87 problematic unless they reach severe levels. Alternatively, having grea ter financial resources and stability over the life course perhaps makes one more vulne rable to serious upset when unexpected problems occur. As might be expected race and racism we re problems more often discussed by African Americans than white Americans (6 versus 2) In the two occasions when white-American elders spoke about race it had to do with the race of another person. At no time did white Americans talk about whiteness as a source of problems in life. Age and Problems in Life Age differences presented no clear variati ons in the number or nature of problems discussed by elders in the narra tive accounts. It is difficult to compare the number and types of problems discussed because of the age distribution of the sample. Most (n = 11) of the elders fit within the old age group (age 65-79 ). Three elders would be char acterized as the oldest old (80 and older) and two elders were of late-middle age (55-64). No age group stood out as having discussed more problems than the others. Fam ily, emotional and psychological problems, deaths and financial problems seemed to be discussed as frequently in each age group. Illness and medical care problems were discussed least often by the late-middle aged group; old and oldest old elders discussed illness and medical care problems about as frequently. Findings support the idea that the period commencing with late-middle age ushers in problems and stressors that are pretty well known to researcher s (Elder et al., 2003; Novak, 2006) However, because of the limitations of this data, no comparative conclu sions between the cohorts can be drawn about elders experiences of unpleasant events. Why Werent Problems Associated With Aging Mentio ned More? The problem conceptual categories discussed in the above sections were those that were mention most often by respondent s. One might expect that elders would count problems
88 associated with getting older among the most serious issues that they enco unter in life, favoring them in their interview comments. For sure, elders talked about i ssue of death and dying, feelings of loneliness associated with losing fr iends and relatives and realizations, as well as expectations, that their physical abilities would wane over time w ith increasing age. However, for the most part, elders did not frame their he alth, financial, psychological or familial problems as aging problems per se. This may be due to three factors. First, elders talked about seri ous problems mainly when they occurred in the distant past. This preference caused elders to focus on crises experienced at a younger age. Second, elders may have felt uncomfortable or like they were te mpting fate talking about age-related difficulties that they were experiencing at the time of the interview (see discussion of How Unpleasant or Problematic Events are Discussed, above). Third, and most inte resting, when elders discussed problems that were connected to advancing age ther e seemed to be a slidi ng scale that adjusted for age-based expectations. These age-based expectations, in tur n, discouraged problem appraisals. Just as a 21-year old would not normally lament impeding retirement, elders in this sample did not count, for example, reduced physical abilities as necessarily problematic, because such limitations were expected. In other words, problems that were perceived as on time or normative were not problems at all. In those instances where elders did mention age-related limitations or occurrences, most often it was beca use the onset (e.g., of a disability) or incident (e.g., death of siblings) was sudde n, unexpected or in some way traumatic. In the future, it would be helpful for researchers to qualitatively explore elders conceptions of growing older to further understand this phenomenon. Conclusion: Problems Elders Experience in Life The purpose of this section has been to describe the number and nature of problems elders experienced in the previous week, month, year and in their enti re lives. I did not set out to
89 do a statistical analysis. Inst ead, I sought a way to describe the distribution of problems among the elders interviewed. The elders in this study described numerous and diverse types of problems they experienced in life. The problems discussed in the narrativ e interviews were not surprising; research literature on aging and stress has identified each of the conceptual categories that emerged from the interview data as a significan t source of stress, loss and crises in later life. The benefit gained from a qualitati ve exploration of problems in la ter life is what it reveals about the thought processes of elders and how problems are situated throughout the life course. The devil is in the de tails; only by listening to elders talk about their problems do we gain an understanding of their personal e xpectations, needs, and motivations namely, their salient meaning making systems. Qualitative methods of analysis allow us to transcend ageist, racist and sexist stereotypes of the aging process and later life so that we are able to see later life from the standpoint of elders themselves. In this wa y flesh is added to the bare bones of theory. Problem appraisal initiates the meaning maki ng coping process. From the moment an event occurs, individuals begin to make highly su bjective appraisals that are influenced by how they situate themselves in the world and what they perceive are the most important beliefs, values, and goals at stake. Copi ng is an individuals response to events or incidences that they have appraised as problematic or unpleasant. Coping is an attempt to craft a solution to problematic or unpleasant circumstances in life. How do Elders Say That They Have Coped w ith Problems in Life? Elders in this study described many ways in which they coped with the problems they experienced in their lives. The goal of this sectio n is to describe how elders, in their own words, said they coped. Here I will focus solely on copi ng that was not described by elders in explicitly religious or racial terms. I will take-up religi ous and racial coding in the next section when I
90 discuss what religious or racial meaning making coping processes elders adopted to cope with problems in life. Coping was assessed from the narratives by codi ng elders responses to how they dealt with unpleasant events in specified periods. As explained in Chapter 3: Methodology, these codes moved from line to focused to conceptual codes; constant comparison and consolidation to successively higher levels of abstraction was central to this process. In coding the narrative interview data five coping themes emerged: 1) philosophical or introspective coping; (2) pragmatic, practical or planful coping; (3) help-s eeking, collaborative or cooperative coping; (4) negative, selfor other-destruc tive coping; and, (5) coping alone. These conceptual categories capture a broad range of responses to challenge s in everyday life. While not every coping response can be described as positive or helpfu l it should be remembered that coping emerges out of an individuals unique pe rspective on life. That perspective is influenced by various factors epistemological (e.g., whether one is a devout Catholic, a colleg e professor or a rural farmer), material (e.g., class, wealth and poverty) structural (e.g., gender and race), contextual (e.g., coping in the midst of wartime or after ones spouse has died unexpectedly) and problemspecific (e.g., coping with the death of a child versus a respected public figure). Every coping response makes sense according to its own logic. One way to begin to understand this logic is to explore the meaning upon which coping responses rest. Philosophical or Introspective Coping Philosophical or introspective coping centers on an individua ls feelings and emotions. This is the closest conceptual category, beside s religious and racial co ping, to Parks (2000) meaning making or cognitive coping model. Here elders tune-in to their feelings, knowledge, past experiences and intuition in order to redefine the meaning of a problematic event or
91 circumstance. Sometimes all this involves is acknowledging ones grie f, disappointment or feelings of guilt in connection with an unpleasant event. Sixteen elders, the entire sample, used philo sophical or introspec tive coping strategies; a total of 61 instances were coded from the interv iew data. White Americans reported a total of 38 instances (ranging from 1 to 11 instances for a person) and African Americans 23 (ranging from 1 to 8 instances for a person). Wisdom and relig iosity scores did not make a difference here. Peter, a white-American widower, 79 years of age with low SES and a high school education, and one of two elders in the samp le with a high wisdom score, had a difficult childhood including witnessing an em otionally abusive relationshi p between his parents that involved his mothers leaving the family home to be with other men. After the suicide of his father and death of his mother Peter reflected on how he c oped with his parents deaths, particularly his mothers: Interviewer: Well, how did you get through, or how did you handle that, your mother's death? I mean... Peter: No, I felt alright. I had no guilt at a ll with my mother's death. My father's, I had no guilt either, but I mean, I had no guilt whatsoever. We did very well. We did as much as we could for her. And sheit was certainly a sad situation. She died in the middle of February. You couldn't open the grave, it wa s so cold and frozen, and things of this nature. She was in the funeral parlor for five days. She had good friends. I mean, all the friends who came to see her, and I, we gave her a good funeral, and she had a Mass, Catholic Mass, and she had a, she had a, we did all we could do for her. I have no problem with that. And my sister and I we re the only survivors. I was one of four children. But two daughters, tw o girls, have already died. So my sister and I were the only survivors. And we settled the estate, it wasn't any big estate. It was a, but we settled, and that was it. I didn't, there's no qualms about that. And then I had more relaxation. I didn't, I moved to the, I coul d go where I wanted to go then. 'Cause I was always at her, wherever she was at, she was, I was there to visit her. So I mean, I was, it was sort of freedom. It was a freedom. Yea h, it was sort of freedom. I mean, I hate to think of it as that, but it was, thats all there is to it. I mean... (#24047, p. 9-10) Elders in the study repeatedly spoke of copi ng in terms of a philosophy of life or way of seeing the world that they a pplied to all unpleasant circum stances they encountered.
92 Philosophical coping included: refu sing to dwell on bad situations, think or talk negatively about people or circumstances; disdaini ng a judgmental or complaining attitude; choosing forgiveness and releasing grief or bad feeli ngs; thankfulness in the knowledge that things could be worse; believing that life is generally good and all one needs to do is just keep living; finding the humor in bad events; and, simply not defining a circumst ance as unpleasant. Elders were proud to say that these ways of thinking and seeing the world had worked for them in the past and that they planned to continue to use them in the future. Elders who coped in th is way spoke of learning these ways of thinking about problems or unplea sant circumstances through trying experiences and through the guidance of family a nd friends, particularly parents. Debra, a low SES 61-year old African-American elder without a high school education (marital status missing) recalled how she coped, with the assistance of her mother, when her son was poisoned by drinking kerosene: Debra: Ah, my oldest son, he drink some kerosene and so it give him pneumonia and so he was living way in the country and they ha d no car or nothing. And so I took him in my arms and I ran all the wa y to the store, about two mile s, and so the man that was running the store, well, he took him to the hospital and he had pneumonia. He almost died. Interviewer: Well, um, how did you cope w ith that? How did you handle it or what did you do to get through that whole experience? Debra: Well, what I did, I, my mother was liv ing then and so she would talk to me every day, and she would tell me, you know, that don't worry, he going to be alright. I just had her to, you know, to counsel me and tell me 'cause back then I was younger and didn't know too much about how to get through things but she told me a lot of things, and I find out today what she told me, I'm still living by, you know, some of it, she told me how to get through difficulties. (#18004, p. 5) A more introspective or emotional form of coping that elders spoke of in connection to particularly traumatic or troubling events like terminal illness or death of a loved one included strategies designed to achieve cl osure and say goodbyes. In this case elders were concerned with making their peace, wrapping things up before ther e is a death, and taking time to adjust to
93 eventual bad outcomes. Dinah, a 73-year ol d African-American woman, divorced with a high level of education (a gr aduate degree) and socioeconomic stat us, embodies this coping strategy: Interview: What were the most unpleasant events you experienced du ring the last year? Dinah: Well, I guess it was the passing of my mother. Um-hm, the passing of my mother. But then I can't say that was, she was 98. My mother was 98, and I was able to go through that. In fact, all of us were b ecause I viewed it as coming down a tall, spiral staircase with my mother. I was the second oldest of ten child ren so I had lived with her, I had seen her when she was a young person, and I had seen her grow olderSo when the end came and because of glaucoma, she lost her sight, and she complained about just being in the darkness, you know. Or just gr oping in the darkness a nd so I could see that the quality of life for her had changed. And then I started on this spiral staircase and the closer she got to the bottom, when she finally hit bottom, you could see, hallelujah, she has made it. You know. So the tears and things did not come because you had really lived with her and you had assessed her life along with yours. Interview: Okay. How did you deal with this particular unpleasant ev ent? I mean, if you could capture that in a paragraph, what ki nds of things did you do to get through this? Dinah: Ah, I think I had gotten through it before she passed because she called, had my brother call me, and I went up home, and I stay ed, I rented a car, so I stayed two or three days, and when that time was over, I said to her, "Mama, my time is up and I must go." And she said, "Well, I'm glad you came. And if I don't ever see you again, I am going home to be with my Maker." And I said to her, "And one day, Mama, I will meet you there." And that's what I concentrated on all the way. I never saw her again, I never worried about her. She says, "I'm going to the hospital and when I leave there, I want to go to the nursing home because she could not cut us loose at the house. There were too many things. And she went to the hospital, and I think about the third or fourth day she was there, she expired. (#14005, p. 4-5) When elders engaged in intros pective coping they emphasized: staying calm and not getting overly emotional; being realistic about the s ituation; accepting the inevitable; putting the situation into proper perspective; stating and understanding the facts; getting on with life; understanding what could be done and what was out of their hands; doing what had to be done, even when it was emotionally painful or difficu lt; and, remembering that unpleasantness is an inevitable part of life.
94 Pragmatic, Practical or Planful Coping All elders talked about the importance of be ing pragmatic, practical and planful in coping with problems in life. Sometimes stressful events are resolved by learning to adjust to a new reality that requires a slight cha nge in lifestyle or ways of doing things (e.g., changing diet or amount of exercise with the onset of a chronic illness or disability). Being prepared to learn something new or a new way to do things, calling on skills or knowledge used in other unpleasant circumstances or thinking about the problem as an opportunity to explore new possibilities, are all crucial to coping with problems that arise in life. Every elder in the sample used pragmatic, prac tical or planful coping strategies; a total of 108 instances were coded from the interview da ta. White Americans reported a total of 49 instances (ranging from 1 to 11 instances for a person) and African Americans 59 instances (ranging from 1 to 17 instances for a person). Wi sdom and religiosity sc ores did not make a difference here. Paul, 69 years old, married, with a low soci oeconomic status and high school diploma, talked about a magnificent obsession that devel oped from the need to lose weight after a hip and knee replacement: Paul: I had to lose weight because I was, I was something about 285 And just enjoy life, you know at that weight. I look at it now, after about 255, it wasn't necessary to have all that no way, you know. But what, or really how I handled it was I, I started having a little fun with it. You'll find yourself, you don't eat as much. So, you don't think about whatever you used to feel. I used to, when I was working, you know, I would, I would prepare myself with a meal, 4 or 5 eggs in an omelet, with salami, cheeses and stuff, and other, and chicken liv ers and whatever, and once I got that in the old facility, I could work four or five hour s without a thing. Destruction, because, I was feeling very, very good. And I wasn't hurting anywhere. And then th e doctor came, and my cholesterol was just too much, way out of sight. That didn't seem to push me too much, but you know the mayor, the mayor of Washington, Detroit, or on e of them. They, he was a little guy, he was 285, or 290, or something like that, chol esterol way 300. He had the big one, and that's a heart attack and left, and then I came one, two three. "Hey, you're about in the
95 same category." And no one can take care of that but you. See, because I had everything I needed in the kitchen. And I had the, my doctor wrote a lot of dietary, gave me an order to follow. So I started treating the body as it needed it...and skinned the chicken, and boiled it, make a salad, and take the chicken off the bone, make a big salad. At first it wasn't doing anything. But then I said, "Well, two or three pounds here, eight pounds here," and one day it really, got to really lo t of, I was in the office, and he said, "Mr. Reynolds." But see, you come down te n pounds, in a month's time or something, you know, you figure out, I say, "I don't mind losing weight, as long as I don't think I'm sick, or something like that." Ten pounds, you know And, from 10, I went to 12, 15. Then it becomes a max, a magnificent obsession to say that I lost this weight and I didn't have to. I didn't have to go on a starvation plan. (#19004, p. 37-39) Practical and planful interventions are sometimes not even thought of as a means of coping but as the only or automatic response to a bad situation. Adultery is a painful problem that Ruth had to cope with in her marriage. Ruth is a low SES and education level, 81 years old white American, currently unmarried but had been married four times widowed three times and divorced once. In her interview Ruth described her unique approach to dealing with the dissolution of her marriage: Interview: Well, maybe then we'll switch, you' ve mentioned a couple of things, but we'll switch over to the unpleasant events. What do you list as th e most difficult or unpleasant events of your life? Ruth: (pause) You dont want me to say. Interviewer: You know, I uh, if you don't want to answer it, I don't want you to answer it, but if you want to tell me about it, we'd like to hear about it. But, you know, I don't want to pressure you in any way. Ruth: No, to find out that your husband. Y oure sitting there in this same chair, expecting that son, and to find out your hus band's got somebody else putting it to. The woman called me up thinking I was his mother. And she had to talk to him right away, had to talk to him. I says, "Something I can do?" "Well, maybe you can," she says, "you can start planning a wedding." I said, "A weddi ng?" She says, "Yes, I'm pregnant." So I said "Are you sure you have the wrong, the right person?" And she told me who she was, and I checked in the phone book, and that was her telephone number. So when my husband came home, he was supposed to be working, and when he came home, he came upstairs, and I stood on the top step, and he said, "Oh, you look so nice," and here I am all like this, you know, and I took one swing at him, knocked him down the stairs. I couldn't help it. That's the only time I've ever been vi olent in my life. Interviewer: (pause) So, what, how did you...
96 Ruth: I got a divorce from then on, January the 3rd, in Duval County Court. And before I left the courtroom, the only way I would give him a divorce, is I made him marry her in that courtroom before I left. (#22001, p. 17-18) Offering care or comfort to someone in need, borrowing, lending, or earning extra money, resting ones body or other forms of self care, taking prescribed drugs and following doctors advice, reading books for relaxation or to increase knowledge, going on a diet and monitoring food intake, asking questions, having a social drink, planning ahead (e.g., saving money, drawing up a will, prepaying a funeral pl ot), and removing oneself from harmful or negative situations, are the many wa ys in which elders utilized pragmatic, practical or planful coping to deal with problems in their lives. Help-seeking, Collaborative or Cooperative Coping Help-seeking, collaborative or cooperative coping is proa ctive coping. This type of coping entails drawing on others to help with a problem and confronting specific aspects of an unpleasant circumstance that create stress or hardsh ip. Elders who use this method of coping get the support of loved ones, friends and family members; if trouble erupts in interpersonal relationships they seek to get everyone involve d pulling together to resolve the situation and solidify relationships. Sometimes just spending time with or talking to people is enough for elders to feel that they have done some thing to help deal with a problem. Twelve elders reported 40 instances of help-seeking, colla borative or cooperative coping. More white Americans (eight of nine elders) than African Americans (four of seven elders) reported this strategy. Re ligiosity score seemed not to make a difference; close to the same proportion of HH, HL, and LL score elders as were represented in the sample used this coping strategy. One of the high wisdom elders, Pete r, was represented among this group. Twice as many female as male elders (n = 8, n = 4) were help-seeking copers. Al l seven high SES elders reported using this strategy; 4 (of 7) and 1 (of 2) low and medium SES elders used help-seeking,
97 collaborative or cooperative coping. There were no stark differences in level of education among those who used this strategy: nearly all graduate, bachelors de gree and high school educated elders reported help-see king in response to problems in lif e; 1 out of the 3 elders with less than a high school education used this strate gy. Marital status, t oo, did not present stark differences: 7 of the 8 unmarried and 5 of the 7 married elders were help-seeking copers. The age range for elders who used this co ping strategy was 55 to 75 years old. Dinah, a divorced 73-year old, retire d African-American teacher with high socioeconomic status and educat ion, described how she relied on her family for support when she was experiencing problems with her hip: Interviewer: And how did you deal with this unpleasant event? What exactly did you do? Dinah: Well, I let everybody know, esp ecially my sons, you know, that I was incapacitated this way because they're not accustomed to mom doing anything but, you know, being very well and able to move at will. So I let them know and the whole family, so they see me stand and stop and th ey say, "Alright, get it in gear." And so it was helpful to know that they were with me. (#14005, p. 1) When elders feel it is necessary, help-seeker s might lead them to enlist the help of similarly situated persons (e.g., joining a support group to cope with grief), professionals (e.g., an attorney or mediator) or se rvice care providers (e.g., a nursing home or doctor) for help and advice. An important aspect of this type of coping is its pos itive, cooperative component. Dealing with a problem might involve confront ing a person or situati on head on, no matter how difficult or trying; this is an occasion for resolving past grievances, not for fighting, stirring up negative emotions or stimulating acrimony. After Peter, a widowed 79-year old white Am erican, with a high school diploma and low socioeconomic status (and high wisdom), discov ered that the family plumbing and heating business that he depended on for income was closing, he was very angry. Not only had his
98 parents failed to give him advance notice of the closing, but they expected him to use his own time to finish outstanding jobs. When asked how he got through this ha rd time Peter responded: I went to work for someone else. And woul d you believe this? For the next six months to eight months, I worked on weekends to finish his jobs, so that he could get, they could get that money. I'm, I don't, I don't regret it, I did it my own way. This is my, something I did. So I feel that I paid my debt. I'm, nobody owes me, I mean, I don't owe anybody anything. Thats the way I felt. Interviewer: You are a very good son. Oh, I did, I felt I was let down badly, but I knew it wasn't his fault. My mother was, like, she's a very strong woman, but she did not, she was always worried about her own self, first. But I felt very strong, very close to my father. I mean, we had a lot of problems, we got through together. (#24047, p. 7) While Peter had many reasons to feel betrayed he committed himself to resolving the issue, partly by working to understand th e issue from his fathers perspective. Peter describes working hard to replace bad feelings with empathy for his father and a mature understanding of the circumstances and personalities involved in the situation that were out side of his power to control. Negative, Selfor Other-Destructive Coping As the label makes clear, negative, self or other-destructiv e coping encompasses negative thoughts, responses or action to an unpleasant or pr oblematic situation. Negative coping was described as such by the elders who e ngaged in it; no attempt was made in the coding to qualify elders descriptions of their behavior. Elders who describe co ping in a negative, selfor other-destructive way attr ibute their poor coping respons e to voluntary and involuntary impulses. A total of seven elders reported fifteen inst ances of negative, self or other-destructive coping. White Americans were more likely to re port this coping strategy: five of the seven elders (71%) were white Ameri can, a proportion higher than found in the total sample (56%).
99 Religiosity scores of these 7 elders did not ev idence stark patterns: 3 HL, 2 LL, and 2 HH. A lower proportion of HL score elders, a higher proportion of LL score elders and the same proportion of HH score elders used this strategy as were represented in the entire sample. Both of the high wisdom elders are among the group of elders using this coping method. Males and females were nearly equally represented (4 and 3 respectively). More low SES elders used this strategy than medium or high SES elders (4, 1, and 1, respectively). The proportion of low SES elders who used negative coping is also higher than their representation in the entire sample (57% versus 44%). About as many well educated (2 with bachelors and 2 with graduate degrees) as less educated (2 with high school an d 1 no high school) elders used negative coping. More unmarried elders (n = 6) than married (n = 1) elders reported ne gative selfor otherdestructive coping a proportion not representative of unmarried elders in the entire sample (53%). The age range for elders who used th is coping strategy was from 55 to 82 years old. Abe, a divorced 65-year old white American of medium SES with a bachelors degree, one of two respondents with a high wisdom score, mused about his response to a bowling game gone wrong: Interviewer: That is great. Okay, so th en Ill ask you what would you say are the most unpleasant events that youve e xperienced during the last week? Abe: Today. (laughs) Today, I had three bad games and we were bowling a team that was really not that great. We should have beat e m. We did take two, but not with my help. I could not hit nothing today. I was way off. I was uncoordinated, uh, and my ball was not working for me and I bowled. In fact, I bowled the worst three games Ive ever bowled since bowling. I barely broke a hundred in tw o games and thats highly unusual for me. So, its a bad day. Interviewer: Well, one of the things we are interested in knowing is how you deal with or react or handle unpleasant events and so how would you say you reacted to todays games. What did you do to.. Abe: Oh, I talked to myself. I chewed myself out and uh, I said a few words. Cuss words. And, and I did and I hate to do that, but but I was so disappointed. I just got mad,
100 internally frustrated and disgusted with my procedure of bowling today. It was awful. I was awful. (#24045, p. 1-2) Fifty-five year old Naomi, a married, white-American woman with high socioeconomic status and level of education discussed how she negatively c oped with the divorce of her daughter. After twenty years of marriage Naomi and her husband had forged a close relationship with their son-in-law and disagreed with their daughters decision to divorce and move-in with another man. Interviewer: So how would you say you've, what have you done to cope with it? Naomi: Oh, I've screamed, I've cried, I've bitched and moaned and groaned and talked to friends andYeah, and just, had a glass of wine at night. That's been about it. Not much other way to deal with it. And she and I talk, of course, but we're not coming to terms, on my terms, that's what I keep saying, "we need to do this my way," but anyway, it'll, it's a lot, it's going to be a change in our lives. (#21010, p. 3) Instances of negative coping described in the inte rviews also included: gaining weight; lashing out; keeping emotions bottled up; harboring re sentment; becoming a workaholic; developing an overachiever mentality; and, having no social life. Coping Alone Elders who coped alone desc ribe dealing with problems by resolving the situation on their own. These elder are very independent and dont feel they need outside help. Elders who cope alone pride themselves on resourcefulness and have a strong sense of achievement in overcoming obstacles. Coping alone might also include becoming more ac tive in response to a problem or strictly maintaining routines in order to divert attention from unpleasant events. On the opposite end of the continuum, but still related, is a coping alone strategy that entails doing nothing at all in response to a problem. Six elders talked about using coping alone as a response to unpleasan t events in life. A total of eight instances were coded from the in terviews. Just as many African Americans as
101 white Americans mentioned coping alone (3 from each group). Half of all HL (n = 4) and LL (n = 1) religiosity score elders in the sample repor ted coping alone, while one quarter of the HH (n = 1) elders did so. One of the high wisdom el ders, Abe, discussed using this coping method. Among the six elders who reported coping alone 3 were women; two of the three women were African American and two of the men white. A higher proportion of high SES, well-educated and non-married elders reported copi ng alone than were represented in the entire sample: four of the six elders who reported coping alone were of high socioeconomic status, all had either a bachelors (n = 2) or a graduate degree (4 elde rs) and five out of six were unmarried. The age range for elders who reported coping alone was 65 to 82 years old. Sarah, a widowed, 72-year old African-Amer ican elder with a high SES and graduate education discussed how she coped with her husbands heart condition and the double amputation of his legs: Sarah: And then I, I'm the type of person too, if anything really bother me a whole lot, or worry me, I can't, tell it. So I continued to work, and my husband was here with me, and then he had some experiences too that were unpleasant for me. He had a, poor circulation in his lower extremities, so his left leg, right leg was amputate d...in '74. His right leg. His right leg was amputated first and the left leg amputated in '84. And he died in '94. That's a long stretch. Um-hm. And he had a lot of, a serious, he had a serious heart condition. Interviewer: How did you cope with th at? How did you get through all that? Sarah: I don't know, I just stayed busy. So metime when you, have a problem, you're so involved in that, you don't have time to stop a nd feel sorry for yourself. I'm not one of those types of persons, that I don't stop and feel sorry for myself. I try to keep moving, try to keep doing things, so that's the way that I am. Interviewer: I know what you mea n. Too busy to, too busy to stop. Sarah: Right. And I know when he was in th e hospital in and out of the hospital the first time and the second time. And I was working, and people would ask me, "How do you come to work?" And I said, "Well, he's in th e hospital. I know he's being taken care of. So if I have to take some time off from wor k, I'd rather do it when he's at home. (#12006, p. 17)
102 Conclusion: How do Elders Cope with Problems in Life? All coping strategies emerge out of meaning making systems. Doubtless elders belief in independence, self-help, strong character, helpin g others, self-reflection, steely determination, planfulness and even some of the more negative behaviors emerge out of an epistemological reservoir that is as deep as it is wide encomp assing historical, familial, gender, race, ethnicity, class, religious, national culture and many, many more sources of influence too numerous to list. In order to understand how people cope and why they choose the coping responses they do, researchers must plumb the depths of particularly salient meaning making systems. When we endeavor to understand the logic of meaning maki ng systems our explorations brings us into contact with the indigenous l ogic that shape peoples choice s good and bad. Religion and race are two important meaning making systems that ha ve the power to shape cognitive or meaning making coping with problems in life. What Religious or Racial Meaning Making Co ping Process Have Elders Adopted to Cope w ith Problems in Life? Religious Meaning Making Instances of religious m eaning making were coded for in the interview data when elders used their own religion to discuss how they coped with problems in life. Fourteen of the sixteen elders in this study talk ed explicitly about relig ion in regards to coping. It is important to remember that elders were not asked specifically how they used religion to cope with problems. Rather, when religion emerged in a narrative it was a spontaneous admission that religious meaning mattered in instances where loss, stress or crises arose. Spontaneous mentions of religion are a strong point of this study and point to the significance of religious meaning making in coping with problems in life. It should be noted that the sample of elde rs in this study were drawn from the Southeastern United States. Pr evious research has found that Southerners are
103 generally more religious than th eir counterparts in other parts of the country (Chalfant & Heller, 1991; Silk, 2005; Smith, Sikkink, & Bailey, 1998) Three themes describe how elders use religi ous meaning to cope: (1) faith and dependence on the promises and provisions of God; (2) en gaging religion, church s upport and partaking in religious activities; (3) religious belief, death and the afterlife. Faith and Dependence on the Promises and Provisions of God Eleven elders (6 white American and 5 African American) mentioned faith and dependence on the promises and provisions of God in 37 instances (20 and 17, respectively by race) of coping with problems in life. Faith and dependence on the promises and provisions of God is a more action-oriented strategy of mean ing making than simply assenting to belief in religious doctrine or te aching. When some elders talked ab out faith in the interview narratives they were not merely talking about having strong religious or spiritual beliefs. These elders faith led them to make cognitively risky choices to believe in good outcomes, despite evidence to the contrary. For these elders faith is a process not tied to specific events. God works in, with and through peoples lives to produce good outcomes. Therefore, there is meaning and purpose in every circumstance even bad events have a purpose in Gods immutable plan. Joseph, a white, married 69-year old man (HL religiosity score) with a gradua te education and high socioeconomic status discussed how religious meaning helped him cope with a serious illness and health scare: Joseph: But declining health is something th at, I guess, a lot of people my age begin to have concerns about, and not just recently, but, oh, it's been, I guess, almost two years ago, I experienced having to have a whatever it's called surgery they use what they call burning out with some kind of electrical pr ocess, bladder tumor. And so once you go through something like that you think, well, is some form of cancer spreading to some other, you know, part of the body. And just like any other person my age who has had difficulties healthwise, you know, I wonder some times is that the way I might have to go out, suffering from cancer or something that's real painful and hard to live with. Of
104 course, we all got to go out one way or th e other and hopefully not have to suffer, you know, too much. Interviewer: So how do you d eal with thinking about it or? Joseph: Well, it's very fortunate that the docto r was able to discover that and able to deal with it and that if something else devel ops, there's hope, you know, it can be dealt with. And I think my faith, my religious faith, I'd ha ve to say that that's one of the keys to facing difficulties of this type. As I have f aced surgical procedures before and that's what I wind up doing is just placing my faith in th e Lord and He's going to bring me through this, that He's going to guide these physicians that are in charge of this process. And if He doesn't, then it'll be because it's my time to go, and He'll take care of me still. I think that's, I'd have to say that my religious faith really is the thing that I wind up turning to if I'm faced with a scary type situation. (#14019, p.6-7) Elders who religious meaning making leads them to faith and dependence on the promises and provisions of God discussed how they coped with unpleasant events in life by: turning their problems over to the Lord; relying on Gods will; trusting in God; and anticipating Gods blessings and provisions. This was the mo st frequently alluded to strategy for religious coping; only both the LL, one HH and an elder wit hout a religiosity score failed to mention this strategy. Scores on the wisdom scale did not seem to make a difference; both high wisdom score elders discussed this method, long with medium wisdom score elders. Every adversity was an opportunity to witness Gods grace and mercy, Hi s provision and plans in action. This way of looking at and enduring unpleasant events comforted elders as they experienced stress, loss and unresolved crises. This was faith in action. Not only did faith initiate a process of partnership for the individual elder and God, their faith in action had the power to put other people, even unbelievers, in partnership with God. Elders of ten spoke of doctors and other medical care workers in this respect. Elders also felt that God could use anonymous people or new acquaintances to deliver His provi sions, especially in cases where the believer lacked the needed skills or knowledge. Mary, a 68-year old, HL re ligiosity score married, white American with a
105 graduate degree and high SES, poignantly discussed how she cared for her terminally ill son with the help of his neighbors that she had never met: He had AIDS, and we knew, for several years, of course, that he was HIV positive. But in February of '95, he had been ambulatory up to that point, and he had to retire on disability about a year, about a year before. But he called and said he was going into the hospital...And he was dismissed from the hospital on Saturday, and I went, I stayed from the time, this was in Atlanta, from the time it happened until he died, I did not come home. And my son had one neighbor who was retired, a male, who could come at a minute's notice to help, and then there were two nurses that he was very close to across the street, that would come also and help. They were both working, but they would help as much as they could. So the friend helped me get him home from the hospital that day, and we got everything set up...he was able to re ally, take care of hi s own personal needs, except for the last few days. But I woul d have to hook up the feeding apparatus, and learn to do that with the ports and give him all the injectio ns, and of course, everything was done through those two ports. I did not have to give an injecti on in through his skin. But, at any rate, I was there for about five weeks with him before he died. And as I say with, again, family and friends, those three friends of his right there that, oh, Id call Dick in the middle of the night, and say, "Dick, I need something," and he was right there to help. Or the two nurses, and again, the good Lord took care of me, I just can't say how much because, if I had a need, one or the other just happened to be there. If I was having trouble hooking up something w ith the IV, those, one of those nurses would happen to walk in. Or you know, Dick, I'd call him w ith a plumbing problem, he'd be right over and help, so, you know, and I have trouble sleepi ng at times, but when I was up there, he would need medications at night, and I'd se t, I had a little alarm clock, and I would set it to go off. I'd go down, give him what he needed, I come back, and immediately go to sleep. I had no trouble sleeping when I needed to at night, the entire time I was there with him, so it just had to be God' s grace that got me th rough that period. (#25006, pp. 10-12) Elders spoke of learning faith and dependence on the promises and provisions of God from close friends, family, religious leaders and parents. For thes e elders, religious socialization led to what was called spiritual maturitythe key to reaping the full benefit of religion in coping with unpleasant or problemat ic circumstance in life. Gra duate-level educated, high SES, divorced 73-year old Dinah, quoted at length above, is an example of an elder who put a lot of time and thought into developing spiritual maturity through understanding the Bibles teaching on death and the afterlife. Dinah (HL religiosity score) describes dealing with the death of her mother:
106 Um-hm, so. I had already made my peace w ith her, with God, and it was the Christian maturity. I could see that this was God's plan and how Go d was intervening and how He had left us intact because my father died in '80, and for all of these years here we were and could go back home this past week because of that, so, you know, I can see who we are is because of who they were. And the things that they did for us. And I was happy to see that my children, who were their grandchildren, of course, they woul d spend summers up there, so they knew as much about the place as we and really grew to love it. It's a country place, you know. But, ah, I think that's the way I got through it. It was the reali zation, and I think I had matured as a Christian and I coul d really see, you know, life and death. And where you were going. And then I read many books, many books, and I think one of last ones I read was what happens to you one minute after you die, where do you go. And things like this, so I think I am just prepared for that kind of whatever. And sometimes I even think about the fact, my children are on the road, suppose you got a report that there had been a tragic accident and they both had been killed. So you see, I deal with these things even before I get them. (#14005, p. 5-6) Rebecca, a married, HL religiosity score, 71-year old white-American elde r of medium SES with a bachelors degree expressed similar sentiments: Interviewer: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about or that you can think of that you think pertains to what we're talking about? Rebecca: No, I do think that having a backgroun d of growing, spiritually, has helped a lot and very important. Interviewer: How would you describe, I mean, what is growing spiritually? Rebecca: Growing in your relationship with God. Not just church-going and stuff like that, but I think there's a deeper thing that comes whenever you're faced with a situation, and the more you delve into the Bible and pray er and quiet times and this sort of thing, you grow. Each thing that happens you seem to sort of grow a li ttle bit closer. (#21008, p. 12) With religious maturity one is able to: remain calm in the face of troubles; be patient and wait on the move of God; be thankful and conten t in times when there are no troubles; remember that adversity is inevitable and there is a time or season for plenty and for scarcity; sustain an ongoing, deep personal relationship with God; and rest outcomes in the hands of God, being prepared for any eventuality without complaint.
107 Engaging Religion, Church Support and Partaking in Religious Activities Seven elders (4 white American and 3 African American) mentioned engaging religion, church support and partaking in religious activ ities in 18 instances (12 and 6, respectively by race) of coping with problems in life. One of two LL score elders, five of eight HL score elders and one of four HH score elders used this stra tegy. This form of religious meaning making bridges the gap between Allpor t and Ross intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity ideal-type. Religious meaning making by engaging religion, church support and partaking in religious activities is different in degree, more so than kind, from the othe r two forms of religious meaning making discussed in this section. The practices this theme encompasses appeared to lack the profound cognitive component that emerged in the other themes. However, the limitations of the data make this difficult to discern unequivocally. Perhaps, these practices can best be described as religious inoculations or as a spiritual first ai d kit; this type of religious coping is designed to help one to remain religiously he althy and connected and, when trouble strikes, cope with crises. These are the necessary disciplines that support deeper religious meaning and conviction. One high wisdom score elder, Abe, failed to mention this method. Debra, a 61-year old low SES African-Amer ican elder with no high school education (marital status missing), discussed how she engaged religion in coping with financial difficulties and the need to secure a job to supplement her income: Interviewer: Okay. Well, as I asked you before we're interested in knowing how you handle difficult things, so then how woul d you say you've handled, what exactly have you done to cope with or get thr ough not having a job when you want one? Interviewer: What have you done? Debra: Well, what I do, I just pray and just ask the Lord, you know, to take care of everything and, you know, do it on His own tim e because I know He going to do it anyway, and so I just tell Him, "You know wh at I need; I don't have to just holler on it. You know what I need." And so I just sit back, you know, and just wait. (#18004, p. 4-5)
108 Peter, a 79-year white-American widower with low SES and a hi gh school education, and one of two elders with a high wisdom score, discussed how he engaged religion an d the church to cope with the death of his sister in an automobile accident: Well, I go to church regularly, and I get some solace out of that. I mean were, were all going to go one of these days, and we have to have something to look forward to, and I do, I believe in the Catholic church, and I have a, I haven't gone any deeper into it, but I have maybe prayed a little d eeper, things of that nature you know. Ive uh, I seek, I seek, um there's comfort there, you know. But, I'm like, it's really the only way I can figure it is, I have no other way of approachi ng it. I never thought of another way. I'm not going to come, I mean, I don't feel like I need counseling, or anyt hing of that nature because, I mean, I've taken it, and I've lived with it, it's something, like I say, still every time I think of about it, I feel a pain in my. (#24047, p. 4) Engaging religion, church suppor t and partaking in religious activities involves practices like: reading Scriptures; praying for oneself or others; getting ones congregation to pray for ones needs; asking ministers to pray or visit a nd pray over oneself or a loved one; asking to be placed on a prayer list; seeking co mfort in church praise and worship (i.e., through music); getting material or moral support from the church body; and, simply attending church. Religious Belief, Death and the Afterlife Seven elders (4 white and 3 African Ameri can) mentioned religious belief, death and the afterlife in ten instances (split evenly by race) when talking a bout how they cope with problems in life. No LL score elders (n = 2) mentioned th is strategy, while two of the four HH score elders and five of the eight HL score el ders did. Abe, one of the two high wisdom score elders did not discussed this method of coping. This type of religious meaning making is mo st often invoked in the case of very serious, traumatic or life threatening events, usually the death of a loved one. When no better resolution than death appears immanent, religious beliefs a bout death and the afterlif e take over. Elders discussed how they had no fear of death for th emselves or their loved ones because they felt confident that they knew exactly what happened after death. Thes e elders said that they had
109 spent time thinking about death and were comforted by thoughts of eternal life with Jesus, their relatives, and friends who had passed before th em. Eighty-one year old, widowed Ruth (HH religiosity score) talks about an experience where she was ov ercome with uncharacteristic emotion while driving to church thinking about a sick friend. She reflected on her feelings about death and dying: Ruth: Wasnt thinking about a thing, all by my self going to church. My partner that goes with me is not well. I'm just drivi ng along, going, and it's way out on NW, SW 122nd, so you know it's way out there. The Family Church. So I was going to church. I guess the sun, reflecting on the mirrors, some, all of a sudden tears just star t rolling down my face, and I was not even thinking about anything. Interviewer: Oh, gosh. Yeah. Ruth: But I don't usually cry. And even at funerals, and I make everybody furious, because I don't. Even at my mother's and father's funerals, and I loved that man better than anybody in the world. But why? I want to know why I can't cry about this, when somebody passes away, I feel like they're going to a better place, myself. (#22001, p. 10) Elders who ascribe to a belief in the afterlife reason that death is a natu ral part of life. The dead are going to a better pla ce and prayer is to be reserved for survivors who must contend with the world, not the deceased. Jerome, a never married 69-year old African-American man with a high level of education and socioeconomic status (HL re ligiosity score) discussed his thinking about death after atte nding the funeral of a friend: Interviewer: What were the most unpleas ant events you experienced during the last week? Jerome: Oh, I went to a funeral last Saturday morning at one of my former parents, when I was at Lincoln High School. She passed away and that was kind of sad, but I know those things happen... Interviewer: So how did you do, how did you de al with this unpleas ant event? What exactly did you do? Jerome: I always pray, and leave it to God, really. Interviewer: You prayed for her...?
110 Jerome: I prayed, prayed, I don't need to pray for her. I prayed for myself and for those kids who were survivors, because, you know, it's all over for her, dont do no good now, okay? (#14022, pp. 1-2) Elders who cope with unpleasant events in life using this stra tegy of religious meaning making are comforted that death is not th e worst thing that can happen to a person; there is eternal life after death where they and othe r believers will be rejoined with loved ones in heaven. Conclusion: How Elders Talk about Religion Religious meaning is an important part of th e coping repertoire elders discussed in their interviews. Even though elders were not asked specifica lly about how they used religion to cope with problems in life, they were forthcoming with how religion was central to their ability to surmount unpleasant circumstances in life. What was striking about the interviews was how little religiosity scores, particularly on intrin sic religiosity, coincided with the discussion of religious meaning making. These findings confirm wh at we see in the resear ch literature. There were 12 elders with high intrinsi c religiosity scores whose counts of instances of religious coping ranged from zero to ten; the hi ghest counts were among those w ith low extrinsic religiosity scores (2 HL score elders with counts of ten each). This is no t surprising as Allport and Ross (1967) define HL score individuals as the most re ligious. The four elders with a HH religiosity score had some of the lowest counts of instances of religious coping (2, 2, 3, and 4); according to Allport and Ross (1967) these are so me of the least religious indivi duals. The combination score on intrinsic and extrinsic religi osity make a difference in the use of religion to cope with problems in life. Two factors might explain why professedly intr insically religious elde rs did not talk more about using religion to cope with problems in life. First, religi ous elders might not have talked about religious meaning because they were not as ked to do so. An elder with a high intrinsic religiosity score may feel her re ligious beliefs, motivations, and practices are important, but she
111 may not volunteer this information because she ha s not being invited to do so. Another factor that might explain why religious meaning making was not always discussed by elders with high intrinsic religiosity is that the elders in this sample rarely ta lked about using religious meaning making to cope when problems were appraised as minor, experienced recentl y, or were those that they felt they could resolve on their own. Relig ious coping meaning ma king coping may not kick-in in the short-term; cognitive methods of coping may be reserved for longer term and more serious problems. In addition, for a fe w religious elders, reli gious meaning was not discussed when it appeared that they felt God had made His will known on a problem or crisis, as when it appeared that the death of a loved one was inevitable and not hing could be done about it. It also appears elders religious meaning maki ng is largely retrospectiv e; elders use religious meaning to understand, process, or explain the tota lity of their lives. Religious meaning making helps elders to make sense of the story of their lives the highs and lows, ups and downs, mistakes and successes. One other possibility needs to be evalua ted. It may be that the ideal-type, intrinsic/extrinsic religiosity, fails to capture important elements of religious motivation and practice. This is not an argumen t against using this measure. On the contrary; every variable has limitations. However, to the extent that researchers adopt this shorthand measures without taking seriously its inability to capture subtle r aspects of religious meaning, motivations and practices, misestimation will occur. It is im portant that study measures qualitative and quantitative reflect, as much as possible, lived experiences. Racial Meaning Making No white-Am erican elders used racial meani ng making. This is not surprising considering the findings from the extant literature that point to white Americans conception of white race as normative, unmarked and invisible. Because whit e race is not problematic to white people, it
112 follows that white elders would not raise issues in regards to their r ace nor draw from their experiences of white race as a means to cope with pr oblems in life. This is not to say that race is not a salient meaning making system for white elders. Since white race is normalized in the minds of white Americans, direct questions are needed to unclo ak the role of race for white people in coping with problems in life. Because this is a secondary analysis that depended on spontaneous reflections (i.e., no questions were asked specifically abou t racial coping), the importance of race for white-American elders was difficult to examine. More work must be done in the future to excavate the role of racial meaning making coping among white-American elders. Racial meaning making as a way of copi ng with problems in life was resistant to conceptual categorization and coding. Four of the seven African Americans in the sample engaged in a total of 11 instances of racial m eaning making. As with religious meaning, it is important to point out that th e interview schedule did not incl ude questions asking elders to comment specifically on racial meaning making a nd coping. It would be expected that African Americans mention issues of race since race woul d be highly salient to a racialized minority. Doubtless, many elders had stories to tell and could comment on how race impacted their lives. However, the findings of this study are based on the spontaneous revelations of elders who, in the course of discussing problems in life, talked about how their beliefs, values and motivations in regards to race, racism racial identity, and race relations he lped them to cope with problems. There is evidence from the narrative intervie w data that African-American elders were racially hyper-vigilant and/or perceived race as having an impor tant negative impact on their lives (Pearlin et al., 2005); a form of reflect ed appraisal (Felson, 1985; Hughes & Demo, 1989). However, while elders were aware of the history of racism and race re lation in America, only
113 one elder, Patrick, a widowed 85-year old Af rican-American man w ith low SES and no high school education, invoked race and racism as a feature of United States social structure when discussing problems in life (see discussion on Ji m Crow above). Most of the elders who discussed race focused on race as a personal proble m or impediment that they had to cope with in life and talked about it ve ry little outside of specif ic negative circumstances. Three racial meaning making themes emerged fr om an analysis of the interview data: (1) racial morality, fairness and just ice; (2) religious faith and raci al frustration; and (3) selfsegregation, separateness and racial socialization. In most instan ces elders used racial meaning making to cope with problems of a racial nature It is often difficult to draw the line between religious and racial meaning making; elements of religious thought work their way through discussions of all three types of racial meaning making. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else in the study, the tendency for themes to overlap is evident. This can be best understood by referencing the intersectiona l perspective (Collins 2000) wh erein experience is understood through a lens that takes into consideration multiple highly salient axes of power and resistance (e.g., gender, race and class) that impact a nd shape individuals cognitions, behaviors and choices. Because religion and the church have been the primary instruments with which African Americans have resisted racial oppression in the United States, any discussion of racial coping will necessary include elements of religion. No t only are race and religion inextricably bound in African-Americans collective hist ory, on an individual level, reli gious values and ethics of fairness, justice and equality undergird assessments of race, racism and race relations. Race and religion, as well as gender and cl ass, form a matrix of experiences through which meaning is filtered.
114 Morality, Fairness and Justice Two elders engaged in seven instances (6 fo r one elder and 1 for th e other) of racial coping whereby morality, fairness and justice was th e strategy for racial meaning making. Both of these elders were male and unmarried. One el der had a graduate degree, the other not even a high school diploma; SES for these elders was high for one and low for the other. One elder was 68 years old the other 85. The religiosity score fo r one elder was HL and missing for the other. This form of racial meaning making involves situating problems in a moral framework superior to man-made law (i.e., G ods law, the Golden Rule), but to which elders believe the law should aspire. Patrick an 85-year old widowed, lo w SES and education elde r relates a story from his childhood where racial justice prevailed: Interviewer: Thats right. So, growing up how did you cope with the racism just the everyday difficulties that ... Patrick: Well, it was pretty rough sometime s because sometimes when I leave the hotel, white boy come along and kick me and hit my why do you want to do that? You aint nothing but a damn nigger. I haul off and bust him in the nose. The police, Mr. Jack Garver and Mr. George Bass, he looking at it, and the white man told Mr. Jack Garver, Why dont you go in and stop it? Dont you se e Leroy, what going on? And he hauled off and kicked me on the leg and hit me on the shoulder. I bust him in the nose. Then he go on home crying and his mama and daddy come down there, want Mr. George Bass to arrest me, he said, No, I cant arrest him. You need to teach your child to quit messing with the black children. (#35001, p. 31) This same elder relates another story where a ro ugher form of justice was achieved. Whether the story is true or not, it illustra tes a type of racial meaning maki ng where right trumps might, even when the amount of forced used to achieve justice is excessive: Patrick: I remember one time when I wa s working for the Wilson Cypress Company when the Model As first come out, they came out with balloon tires on them... [Son Brown, a African-American man] had on brand new khaki pants, khaki shirt...he had two rifles, one in the rumble seat and one behi nd the seat behind him [in his Model A Ford car]. [The white men couldnt see [the w eapons]. [And] He had a .38 in his bosom. [Son Brown] stopped the car right in front of a hardware stor e...and got out of it. Whilst he was gone the deputy sheriff walked up ther e and bust one of the tir es...[saying it was] too good a car for a nigger. [Son Brown] was a big, heavyset fellow and he got back
115 there, Who bust my tires? [The sheri ff said] I bust it nigger, what you going to do about it? [Son Brown said] Well nothing, white folks, there aint nothing I can do about it....So he went down, got a wrench and jack, and he going to loosen all of them bolts before he jacking it up, to where he could scru m off [the tire] with his fingers. It wouldnt take him but a few minutes...He put the air in there, got enough in there. He looked out [at the people standing around] and said, Somethings going to happen over there today aint never happened in Melrose before.... [Son Brown] got behind that tr ee there. He killed 24 and w ounded 25. The rest of them throwed them guns down and went to running. Said that nigger aint got no sense. Thats a crazy nigger. [The wounded white me n] went in the hospital, they come out, and they never did walk without crutches. Interviewer: So what happened to Son Brown? What happened to him? Patrick: They got him away from there. Aint nothing happened to him. The deputy sheriff said Son Brown was ri ght. He wasnt bothering th ose people. Too good a car for a nigger. When I was a boy a black man c ouldnt drive a car through Mayo without he had a note from the boss man. Now thats ba d, man. Yes sir, that Mayo used to be tough. (#35001, pp. 32-34) The problems and situations that most o ffend elders moral framework of right and wrong simultaneously situate or maintain them, as a victim of wrongdoing, in a debased social position, but on a higher moral ground. Elders disc ussions of this type of racial meaning making are morality tales where good triumphed over evil (not always black and white, respectively), but not without exacting a pound of fl esh in the process. Elders would often end these stories by reflecting on how far we have come in race relations in the U.S. Religious Faith and Racial Frustration Two elders engaged in two instances (1 instance each) whereby religious faith and racial frustration was the strategy for racial meaning ma king. One of these elders was female and the other male; both were unmarried. One elder had a graduate degree, the other not even a high school diploma; one had high SES a nd the other low. The elders were 73 years old and 85. The religiosity score for one elder was HL and missing for the other.
116 Here religious beliefs combine with racial in sights or experiences in order to help one to cope with problems of a racial nature, and the feelings of ange r and helplessness that accompany them. Dinah, a divorced 73-year old African -American woman with high education and socioeconomic status level, ta lked about how she coped with job discrimination and unfair appropriation of her work: Dinah: I'm trying to think of some of the ot her things that just stopped me cold. As an educator, you do, in integrat ed situations, I don't know whether you've come across this or not. But ah, you find that people use many different ways to cut you off at the pass. I mean, you can be out there, you're really doing something that surpasses what they're doing in the district. See, because they lik e to put us out there on soft money. But you see, I've always belonged to the Master a nd whatever He prepared me to do, I would do it with all my heart. So I don't stand around and, in other words, when I come home just as I'm prepared for this workshop tonight, I pr epare, I dig in. You know. So when I get back, I know exactly what will work and what will not 'cause I've tried both of them on. Here the same as I've said about if you ge t the news and both of your sons have been killed, you know. If you ready yourself for that, knowing that there is the possibility, then, you know, but if you do something and then somebody takes it up at a higher level and signs their name to it and sends it on as theirs. Interviewer: And that has happened? Dinah: That has happened many, many, many times. Many times, many times. Interviewer: And what did you do? Dinah: Well, what else could you do. What could you do. There was absolutely nothing that you could do because at the time you needed your job, you needed to work. So you, it was like slavery. Interviewer: Was there some kind of self -talk that you did to keep yourself from exploding or? Dinah: Well, it's this kind of thing: it was like I said, okay, I learned to tie a yellow ribbon around this particular thing. You see, just tie a bow on it, you know. But the main thing I did, see, I go fishing. You take this reel and rod, I sa y I take them [swish sound effect made]... I don't know where you are, but I know you're out there. Just go on out there. And that's where you get rid of it. Um-hm, just cast it, put it on the end of your reel and just cast it and let it go. Right, right, that's what fishing does for you. Or some other thing. Say, well, just put a bow around it and what you know is not right, shouldn't have happened but just put a bow on it. Or you might say there's another one of those things. That's another one of those things, and you learn to go past it. (#14005, pp. 10-11)
117 What is distinctive and special about this form of racial m eaning making coping is religious transference. Skills, perspectives and philosophies learned through religious socialization help elders cope with racial problems they feel they have no control over problems that they feel are built into the woof and weave of the American social fabric. Even though African-American elders racial insights do not contribute to resolv ing the bad circumstance, it does appear to brings them comfort knowing they have diagnosed the source of their troubles and worked to deal with it on a personal level. Self-Segregation, Separation and Racial Socialization Two elders engaged in two instances (1 instance each) whereby self-segregation, separation and racial socialization was the stra tegy for racial meaning making. One of these elders was female and the other male; one marri ed, the other not. One elder had a graduate degree, the other a high sc hool diploma; one of high SES and the other low. One of these elders was 69 years old the other 73. The religiosity scor e for one elder was HL and HH for the other. This way of coping with problematic, raci ally-charged circumst ances entails selfsegregation and separation from perceived offende rs and probable future offenders, i.e. white Americans. Elders might see this strategy as an important part of the racial socialization of their children or grandchildren, preparing them for interaction with white people outside the home. Elders count this kind of racial meaning maki ng among the most important lessons they have learned over the life course. In talking about he r own journey and struggle to receive a college education, Dinah discussed how she supported her grandsons decision to attend a historically black college: Oh, I tell my grandson now, who's a third-year student at Tuskegee, when he was choosing a school, first of all, he chose a bl ack college because he had relatives there. The vice-president was his mother's brother-in-law. So that was an incentive. But on the strength of that, I said, "Well, I am glad you're going to an all black college." From the time he was, what a babe in arms, everyt hing, every kind of school or nursery or what-
118 have-you had been integrated. Go and fi nd your own and then after that you can go on back to it; you can go anywhere. Go and le arn your people, be fr ee. And find out what it's all about. "Live in the dormitory," I said, "this is an experience you will never forget, the people, the kinds of people whom you meet and with whom you associate." (#14005, p. 7) Self-segregation and separati on is also used by older adul ts and entails negotiating the interpersonal boundaries of working or professional interracial relationships. This type of selfsegregation aims to create a kind of protective buffer around an individual, usually at the inception of a relationship, as a preemptive measure or early warning device to prevent or soften the blow of racial abus e that is perceived as almost inevitable. Sixty-nine year ol d Paul, married with low SES and a high school education, discussed his experiences working with a Jewish co-worker and establishing himself as a kosher chef. Paul self-segregated early in a new job by threatening to quit. Paul does this in order to make it clear that he is skilled at his job, a valuable employee and, most impor tantly, will not tolerate overly close supervision which he percei ves as racially motivated. Th e message sent to Pauls coworker and supervisor by his threatening to quit is that he should be le ft alone to do his work, with minimal interference; he believed his actions had successfully set the tone for all future workplace interactions, absenting himself from too close interactions that might potentially lead to racial upset. Paul describes how he made this happen: ...And this Jewish chef was from Miami, he was a good man, but every time I started to cook something, he would take the, the tool out of my hand. And I couldn't tell him one little, I knew he was right, but I just rese nted the fact that he never did let me finish anything. So I went to, I went to my boss, and I said, "Hey, I think I'm going to need to go." He said, "Why?" He said, "I thought everything would get along." He said, "Joe, he likes you." See, I tried to put a little squeeze on whenever I could, I didn't want to wipe tables all day. I wanted to let him know that I didnt. I had some experience in what I was doing. (#19004, pp. 28) Self-segregation, separation and racial socializ ation are seen by elders as a way of coping with racial problems in life by honing a set of skil ls needed to identify and deal with people or
119 circumstances likely to generate racial conflict. Self-segregati on and separation are also a means of charging ones batteries in safe contexts that affirm ones identity, ways of thinking, and culture. Racial socia lization fosters a lingua franca that African Americans from diverse contexts and social experiences understand. Elde rs do not see self-segregation or separation as a permanent solution; success, for the most part, is measured by ones ability to cope in the wider world, while at the same time drawing susten ance from and tending to ones roots. Conclusion: How Elders Talk About Race Each of the racial m eaning making strategies describes ways of coping engaged in solely by African Americans and only in unpleasant events in which the elders race is implicated. In no instance did white Americans use race to cope with problems in life. However, this does not mean that whites did not talk about race. One way white elders invoked race in the interviews, that was different from African-American elde rs, was in designating other peoples race or nationality without talking about their own. African Americans would talk about white Americans, but not without also talking about th eir own race. Further, when race or ethnicity was invoked by African-American elders it was because it was central to the narrative (e.g., discussing job discrimination or a learning to be a kosher chef). For white-American elders, race seemed not to have anything to do with them personally and was always tangential to the narrative. Much can be learned by exploring further how elders talk about race their own and others. White elders are no exception. None of the discussions of race by white Americans could be characterized as racist or even mean-spirited. However, it is important that all people be encouraged to make background assumptions based on race more apparent, doing this facilitates understanding a nd contributes to healing racial divisions in American society. This is hard work for white Americans unaccustomed to thinking of themselves as racialized
120 individuals. White elders are an indispensable part of the work of making white race more visible because their lives bri dge some of the most turbulen t and angry periods of white supremacist activities in the U.S., as well as tim es when people successfully worked to resist racism. Elders testimony foregrounds this histor y, making it easier to chart new directions for the future. We miss out on an incredible opportun ity to challenge race privilege when we forget that elders are an invaluable resource for positive change.
121Table 4-1. Number of problems coded per interviewee: African Americans Interviewee Intrinsic religiosity Extrinsic religiosity Sex AgeSES Education Married ProblemsWisdom score Debra High High Female61 Low No high school Missing 7 Medium Sarah High High Female72 High Graduate degree Widowed 24 Medium Paul High High Male 69 Low High school Married 8 Medium Dinah High Low Female73 High Graduate degree Divorced 10 Medium Jerome High Low Male 68 High Graduate degree Never married 9 Medium Patrick1 Not measured Not measured Male 85 Low No high school Widowed 5 Not measured Stephen1 Not measured Not measured Male 74 Low No high school Married 3 Not measured 1This case comes from an unpublished study conducted by Ardelt.
122Table 4-2. Number of problems code d per interviewee: White Americans Interviewee Intrinsic religiosity Extrinsic religiosity Sex AgeSES Education Marital status Problems Wisdom score Ruth High High Female81 Low High school Widowed 17 Medium Mary High Low Female68 High Graduate degree Married 15 Medium Rebecca High Low Female71 MediumBachelors degree Married 8 Medium Abe High Low Male 65 MediumBachelors degree Divorced 9 High Joseph High Low Male 69 High Graduate degree Married 13 Medium Aaron High Low Male 75 High Graduate degree Married 3 Medium Peter High Low Male 79 Low High school Widowed 20 High Naomi Low Low Female55 High Graduate degree Married 14 Medium Leah Low Low Female82 Low Bachelors degree Widowed 16 Medium
123 Table 4-3. Problems elders experience in later li fe. Conceptual categories and focused codes Deaths Attending funerals Death by suicide of a child, spouse, friend or family Death of a sibling Death of child or grandchild Death of friend or family memb er (not including immediate family) Death of parent(s) or in-laws Death of spouse Off-time death (unexpected or accidental deaths) Emotional or psychological problems Depression (clinical and lay diagnosis) Drug or alcohol abuse Grief or bereavement Loneliness or boredom Spouse, child, friend or family memb er experiencing psychological problems Employment or educational problems Being forced to come out of retirement Difficulties achieving educational goals Learning or adjusting to a new job or job duties Looking for or having lost a job Off-time, unexpected, or unwanted retirement Racism on the job or educational institution Trouble dealing with difficult aspects of job (not having to do with race) Family problems Abortion or unplanned pregnancy Broken home or family difficulties expe rienced during childhood or adolescence Divorce Divorce of an adult child Divorce precipitated by adultery (committed by respondent or spouse) Emotional or physical ab use experienced in childhood Marital problems Off-time or early transition into adul t roles during childhood or adolescence Problems that disrupt family rela tions (e.g., money, violence, in-laws) Financial problems Growing up or living in poverty Involvement in a civil lawsuit Loss of income Problems with business or property Unexpected medical or dental bills or cost of prescriptions Unexpected expenses or bills (not medical)
124 Table 4-3. Continued. Illness and medical care problems Child who is seriously illness or injured Concern for provision of care in the even t of disease, accid ent or disability Concern over the number or type of prescriptions Concerned about weight gain or loss Family members illness, disease, accident or disability (other than child or spouse) Friends illness disease, accident or di sability or illness in friends family Illness, disease, accident or chronic condition or disability Minor illness, disease, accident or disability Problem(s) related to the ad ministration of medical care Problem(s) associated with care or treatment of a medical problem or illness Provision of care for relative or friend who is ill Spouses illness, disease, accident or disability Surgery to be performed on self, friend or family member Minor difficulties in life Interpersonal difficulties with ne ighbors, friends or associates Minor inconveniences or disappointments in life (e.g., bowling poorly or bad weather) Problems associated with getting older Concern over what one will leave behind Concern that parent, spouse or self will have to go to a nursing home Concern with being the lone survivor of ones immediate family or siblings Embarrassment or shame with perceived ch anges related to aging (e.g., hearing, gait) Fear of a slow or painful death Fear of death Fear of having to adapt to change or doing new things Fear of or actual onset of disa bility or new physical limitations Feared or actual financial ha rdship stemming from retirement Racial problems Growing up in a racially hos tile or violent environment Having experiences of racial discrimination Managing others perceptions of self, ability in light of race Religious problems Problems related to work or service to church Social problems Victimized by serious personal or property crime Death of a prominent public figure or political leader Having grown-up during the Great Depression Political problems or concern related to the government Serving in a war or having a friend, child or family member who served in a war
125 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION Later life is an opportunity to explore what it is that makes each of us unique human beings. Thoughtful reflection on pleasant and unpleasant events pr esents an excellent opportunity to transcend limitations and break free of the bounds of personal and social history, convention and tradition that often work to keep us tethered to negative ways of thinking, acting and being in the world. Later life is also a time of change, and change oftentimes leads to stress. Stress is produced by changes that occur in social roles and netw orks, physical health, emotions and psychological wellbeing. In addition to thes e stressors, women, African Americans and the poor have to contend with the impact of macrolevel forces as they age; sexism, racism and class biases have a deleterious effect on health and quality of life by producing ambient stress that saturates social structures, institutions and pers onal interactions Ageism, an under-researched social problem, affects all elders. Not only in our youth-oriented culture are social institutions and social relations imbued with ageist biases, elders own beliefs about the aged and the aging process undermines their health a nd enjoyment of later life. Investigating what problems elders experience in later life, how they cope and why they choose the coping responses that they do was the goal of this study. Meaning making coping (Park, 2000) is a way to understand how and why people construct the co ping responses to the problems they experience in everyday life. Religion and race are two highly salient meaning making systems in the United States. Prior re search on religion and coping with stress has shown positive effects: religious beliefs and pract ices like prayer, Bible study, faith, trust in God, church attendance and being a part of church so cial networks enhance a person ability to cope with psychological distress and illness and enhan ces quality of life. Th e literature on racial meaning making and stress is far more tentativ e. While research has shown a relationship
126 between perceptions of racism and poor health and healthcare, more work is needed to flesh out theory (e.g., racial hyper-vigilan ce) and identify mechanism (e.g., racial socialization in the family) that explain the relationship between racial meaning making, stress and coping. Summary of Emergent Themes Using data from a convenience sample of 16 semi-structured inte rviews (Ardelt, 2003, 2005a) of elders residing in the Southeastern Un ited States, where elders were asked to recall unpleasant events that occurred in the previous week, month, year a nd their entire life, I was able to explore how African and whites Americans use religious and racial m eaning to cope with problems in life. The interview data were an alyzed using the grounded theory method (Charmaz, 2006; Glaser & Strauss, 1967), a constructivist method of research and analysis that generates in vivo themes that emerge from a close exam ination, description and comparison of lived experiences. Three questions guided this research: (1 ) what problems do elders say they have experienced in life? 2) how do elders say that they have coped with problems in life? and (3) what religious and/or racial m eaning making coping process have elders adopted to cope with problems in life? Findings can be briefly summarized as follows: the way elders choose to talk about unpleasant events is an important indicator of meaning making. Denying or declining to talk about unpl easant events demonstrates elders sense of the precariousness of older age, their need for impression management, independence and respect, and a belief that entertaining negative thoughts or a pessimistic, complaining outlook on life spoils their self-image and show s a lack of thankfulne ss that can lead to unfavorable consequences. scores on the wisdom scale were assessed after the interview data were analyzed and were generally homogeneous among the elders in the sample. Two white-Americans elders scored high while the balance of the samp le scored medium. No differences were observed between medium and high scori ng elders coping with problems in life. more serious or traumatic events are discussed when elders are asked to recall problems over their entire lives.
127 gender and marital status appear to coincide with a greater number and the experience of some types of problematic even ts in life. Women discussed more spousal deaths, family and financial problems, illnesses and psychological issues than men. Non-married elders (divorced, widowed and never married) discussed more illnesses, psychological and family problems than married elders. findings in regards to religiosity, SES, age and race diverged from the conclusions of the extant literature. Paired re ligiosity score and age showed no clear differences in the number or nature of problems discussed. White, high socioeconomic status and educated elders discussed more problems overall and few stark difference emerged in the nature of the problems they discussed. It might be that high socioeconomic status and more educated elders have a lower threshold for stress because they have experienced more success in life. Success leads to high expecta tions that may in turn lead to more profound disappointment when problems arise. Poorer less educated elders have likely grown accustomed to adversity and developed thick sk ins that the slings and arrows of lifes misfortunes are not likely to easily penetrate. coping emerges out of an individuals uni que perspective on life which is shaped by epistemological, material, structural, contex tual and problem-specific factors. Every coping response makes sense according to its own logic. five themes emerged to describe coping st rategies, generally: (1) philosophical or introspective coping; (2) pr agmatic, practical or planful coping; (3) help-seeking, collaborative or cooperative copi ng; (4) negative, selfor ot her-destructive coping; and (5) coping alone. elders used religious meaning making to cope with problems in life in three ways: (1) through faith and dependence on the promises and provisions of God which enables them to: make cognitively risky choices to believe in the best outcome regardless of evidence to the contrary, rely on and trust God, and mature and grow spiritually ; (2) engaging religion, the support of the church and pa rtaking in religious activities, e.g. prayer, scripture reading and attending church services gives elders a practical set of tools that support deeper religious meaning and convictions; and (3) by relying on beliefs about the impermanency of life, the nature of death a nd the afterlife in order to cope with the most serious or traumatic problems in life. racial meaning making was found least often in the interview data and was the most difficult to conceptualize. Racial m eaning making was only discussed by African Americans and mostly in regards to problems having to do with race. Three themes emerged from the interviews: (1) morality, fa irness and justice; (2) religious faith and racial frustration; and (3) se lf-segregation, separation and raci al socialization. Each of these themes are shot through with religious meaning. Elders racial meaning making evidenced a concern for high standards of moralit y and fairness in social interactions that could not always be distinguished from religio us beliefs and values. Coping through racial meaning making involved the cultiv ation of skills and strategies that helped one to avoid, identify and anticipate racial problems before they had time to cause harm.
128 Study Limitations and Suggest ions for Future Research This study suffers from two noteworthy limitations. First the sample is quite small. While representativeness is not a goal of qualitative research, this study would have benefited from a more age, race, socioeconomic level and educationally diverse sample of elders. Second, this study used secondary data for grounded theory analysis. Ideally, primary data would have been best. Being able to return to the field, make further observ ations and clarify the responses of those interviewed would have helped to refine and expand study findings. This is especially so in the case of the two major c oncepts used in this study: religious and racial meaning making. The interview schedule for the study did not include question that asked elde rs specifically about religion, race and coping with problems in life. Though much was derived from their spontaneous discussions, still more may have been revealed if respondents were asked to specifically consider religion and race. Spontaneous mentions of religion and race can also be thought of as a strong point of this study as such revelations illustrate how salient these meaning systems are to the elders who mention them w ithout any guidance from the interview questions. Future study of the role of religion and racial meaning maki ng in coping with problems in life would benefit from research using qualitative methods of data collection that include indepth interviews, life histories and focus groups. Researchers mi ght also want to focus on one particular problem and/or the use of one m eaning making system among a well-defined group of elders; for example, whiteness and death anxi ety among late-middle agers or masculinity and chronic illness among the oldest old African Americans. In addition, researchers should continue their work on unpacking the role of religion in everyda y life by looking at Christian and other groups more closely. Th is is important work with implications for theory and methodology. Too often scientists rely on shortha nd operationalizations of religious behaviors, practices and beliefs that eras e understanding more so than co ntribute to it. Practical
129 consideration attaches to this research methodology (e.g., la rge commitment of time), however, much can be learned from longer term investigat ions that seek to ground exploration in day-today lived experience. Lastly, much more research needs to be done on olde r age racial identity; too few studies exist that investigate whiteness from a life course perspective. Before the generation that experienced such monumental cha nges in U.S. race relations as the struggles and successes of the Civil Rights Movement, the end of legal discrimination, and widespread public rejection of rabid white supremacy passes away, researcher should examine how racial meaning making and identity has evolved for them over their lives. There is an enormous amount of work yet to be done. "Open your eyes and look on the fields. They are white for harvest (John 4:35). "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out worker s into his harvest fiel d" (Matthew 9:37-35).
130 APPENDIX INTERVIEW QUESTIONS Thank you very m uch for agreeing to particip ate in this interview. If you dont mind, I would like to talk to you a littl e bit about the good and bad things that happened in your life. 1. What were the most pleasant events th at you experienced during the last week? 2. What were the most unpleasant events th at you experienced dur ing the last week? 3. How did you deal with these unpleasant events? What exactly did you do? 4. What were the most unpleasant events th at you experienced duri ng the last month? 5. How did you deal with these unpleasant events? What exactly did you do? 6. What were the most pleasant events that you experienced during the last month? 7. What were the most pleasant events th at you experienced during the last year? 8. What were the most unpleasant events th at you experienced dur ing the last year? 9. How did you deal with these unpleasant events? What exactly did you do? 10. What were the most unpleasant events th at you experienced during your entire life? 11. How did you deal with these unpleasant events? What exactly did you do? 12. What were the most pleasant events th at you experienced during your entire life? 13. Is there anything else you would like to talk about? Thank you very much for this conversation.
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142 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Ms. Bam ba is a Ph.D student at the University of Florida, in the Department of Sociology, a National Science Foundation Fellow and Nationa l Institute on Aging Predoctoral Research Trainee in Aging. She holds a BA in criminology and criminal justice from Temple University and an MA in criminology from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her interests include aging, race, African-American masculinit y, and the sociology of religion.