Soscial Support and Mental Well-being: The Intersectionality of Age, Race, Gender, and Class

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Title: Soscial Support and Mental Well-being: The Intersectionality of Age, Race, Gender, and Class
Author: Mair, Christine Armstrong
Advisors: Feinian Chen, Committee Chair
Theodore N. Greenstein, Committee Member
Steve McDonald, Committee Member
Abstract: Aging literature often links social support to higher levels of mental well-being for older adults. Findings concerning variations in the impact of social support on mental well-being according to race, age, gender, and class, however, are not consistent. This paper argues that the reason for these inconsistencies is due to a lack of attention to the intersectionality of inequality in older populations and resulting cumulative disadvantages. I employ an intersectionality perspective to examine how processes of social support (marriage, children, frequency, proximity, and perceptions) interact with race, age, gender, and class to produce differential outcomes in terms of mental well-being. Using data from the 2004 wave of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), I use split samples to test the effect of social support and intersections of inequality on the depressive symptoms of adults over the age of 50. Findings indicate that there is a clear interaction between social support and inequality. Contrary to many theories, women and minorities in this sample are more different than similar. Individuals aged 80 and older of all race and gender groups are less responsive to social support than other age groups. Black men, in particular, emerge as a group particularly at risk for higher depression. The findings demonstrate the necessity of using an intersectionality perspective when studying (increasingly diverse) aging populations.
Date: 2007-10-15
Degree: MS
Discipline: Sociology

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