Theses Doctoral

Differential Structure and Function of Primary Groups in Age Homogeneous versus Age Heterogeneous Areas for the Elderly

Siegel, David

Much of the relevant literature has indicated that age homogeneity of the neighborhood is beneficial for the elderly in increasing life satisfaction and morale, in fostering contacts with friends and neighbors, and in creating a high level of social activity.

However, the dependent variables used in these studies may create distortions in comparing age homogeneous and age heterogeneous neighborhoods. Life satisfaction and morale may be too global as dependent variables and based on too many factors in a person's environment to compare the effects of different neighborhood structures. Contacts with neighbors and friends may not be meaningful in all areas requiring primary group supports.

Therefore, in this study of 1423 elderly people in New York and Florida, Litwak's "Theory of Shared Functions" is used to suggest the application of another type of dependent variable (performance of primary group functions) to compare age homogeneous and age heterogeneous areas. The effect of homogeneity would depend on the degree the structure of primary groups available matches the requirements for the function to be performed.

Age homogeneity, while increasing the concentration of proximate age peers, may create distance from kin who have the most long term commitment. Therefore, one type of function (participation in leisure), which is based on common or age-related interests, is shown to be strongly facilitated by age homogeneity. Another (watching one's place), which benefits from proximity of neighbors, but not from a loss of speed of reaction by the elderly, is weakly facilitated. Another (help in long illness), which is based on long term commitment, is affected little by age homogeneity. With moderate long term commitment required, neighbors and friends are able to substitute for kin.

However, when larger degrees of long term commitment are required, for help with money matters, or help in long illness for those who are disabled, very old, or have low income, there is a significant decrease in the level of primary group aid between age heterogeneous and age homogeneous areas. This is particularly so for the elderly who are handicapped or who have multiple resource deficiencies, and are most affected by lack of kin.

The effects of homogeneity are found to be largely independent of state of residence.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Litwak, Eugene
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 29, 2015