Quality of Life
and Social Support
Among Older People from Different Ethnic Groups
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As the minority population of the UK ages, and as
minority older people begin to demand better services, social
policy will require a better understanding of their needs and
circumstances. There is increasing recognition that much of the
gerontological knowledge base, both theoretical and empirical,
fails to address the ethnic diversity of older people. We lack
nationally representative studies of minority older people that
would permit detailed comparison between their experiences and
those of the majority white community. This inadequate knowledge
base affects our concepts both of successful ageing and of social
and support networks. For example, much of the conceptual background
to successful ageing emphasises independence, a notion which may
be seen as far less central by minority ethnic older people who
may place greater emphasis on mutuality and interdependence.
The literature on change in black and minority ethnic
families makes only limited reference to social networks and social
support. Although studies of carers or informal care may also
provide information on social and support networks, very small
sample sizes and a tendency to concentrate on certain locations
in order to recruit sufficient numbers of minority ethnic groups
has meant that particular urban areas have received disproportionate
research attention. Research on the way obligations are negotiated
within families draws primarily on fieldwork with the majority
population. These factors, together with the evidence that social
networks may alter as a result of caring commitments, raise questions
about the extent to which we can generalise from this research.
This new study will use social networks as a starting
point from which to explore social networks, social support and
quality of life. It will also investigate how opportunities for
social interaction and social support within social networks can
contribute to successful ageing.
Aims and objectives
The study will document the patterns of social networks
across two samples of minority ethnic older people and majority
ethnic older people matched for age, gender, and locality. The
study will use a nationally representative sample of minority
ethnic older people in order to assess whether existing social
network measures are appropriate for this group of older people.
The achieved minority ethnic sample will permit some between-group
comparisons. We will explore the relationship between factors
influencing the size and content of the support networks (such
as ethnicity, household type, gender, physical and psychological
health status, access to health and social services) and the receipt
of social support.
We will also examine the extent to which different
ethnic groups have a shared notion of the concept of social support.
In particular, we are interested in perceptions of interdependence
and reciprocity, family obligation, what influences satisfaction
and dissatisfaction with social support, and how these interact
with perceived quality of life.
The study will record how respondents perceive that
their social support and social networks have evolved over time,
how they envisage them changing and the impact of migration and
racism. This will allow a perspective on whether values within
both majority and minority groups are changing between generations
and how this may influence intergenerational solidarity. Lastly,
the study will contribute to the wider foundations of social science
by evaluating the validity of some standardised measures across
different ethnic groups.
This project will draw on the Family Resources Survey,
conducted by the Department of Social Security, to identify a
nationally representative sample of minority and majority ethnic
older people over 55. We will take a 50 per cent sample of minority
households, yielding 270 potential interviewees, and a 1 per cent
sample of majority households, giving 136 potential interviewees.
Response rates will reduce the achieved sample to an estimated
maximum of 188 minority and 94 majority respondents.
Respondents will be interviewed in their preferred
language, and by an interviewer matched to their preferences as
to gender, ethnic background, and age. The interview will employ
a biographical approach to document the respondent's life course
and to understand how current networks have evolved. Social networks
will be mapped, with particular attention to their size, geographic
dispersion, density/integration, composition and member homogeneity,
frequency of contact between members, and strength of ties. The
interview will explore how far emotional, instrumental, or financial
aid is obtained from respondents' social networks, and how far
this is a mutual exchange in which older people themselves are
the sources of support.
A shorter interview will be undertaken with adults
under the age of 55 in the household, with the aim of identifying
differing perceptions of the respondents' social and support network.
The study will help to provide the means for social
gerontology in the UK to take full account of the influence of
ethnicity on social networks and social support. It will add to
our knowledge of the relationship between quality of life, social
support, and definitions of successful ageing in a way that acknowledges
that their underlying constructs may differ between ethnic groups.
The study will test the feasibility of achieving
representative samples from minority ethnic groups and will help
to establish the reliability and validity of some standardised
measures for use with samples from different ethnic groups. It
will help to identify the extent to which income, health status,
use of health and social services, access to, and satisfaction
with, social support differ between older people from different
ethnic groups and may produce inequalities in old age. Lastly,
the study will help to improve policy for social inclusion in
old age by ensuring that the preferences and priorities of older
people from minority ethnic groups for social participation are