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Health outcomes of older rural women: The role of social relationships

Jessica S. Ziembroski, MSW, PhD, Rural Poverty Research Center, University of Missouri, 222 Middlebush Hall, Columbia, MO 65211, (248) 535-0574, ziembroskij@missouri.edu

Health outcomes of older rural women: The costs of social relationships

The purpose of this research is to examine how social relationships affect the mental and physical health outcomes of older individuals in rural America, specifically in the South. Evidence is substantial that rural areas suffer higher rates of poverty and less access to health and human services than urban areas, which are related to greater levels of disability, impairment, and mental and physical disorders (Jacob et al 1997).

It is likely that due to geographic isolation and persistent poverty in many rural places, informal social ties often meet the daily needs within families and communities. However, existing research does not explore whether social and economic disadvantage associated with rural residence interacts with the costs of relationships with family and friends to harm health in later life.

There is scant and contradictory evidence of how stress and social relationships may affect health in rural areas across the life course (Kivett et al 2000, Johnson 1996, McCulloch 1995, Patten et al 2003). It seems that the relationship between gender, rural residence, and poverty may damage mental and physical health, yet this relationship is not well-understood (Barnes and Bern-Klug 1999, Wells 2002). I suggest that particularly for rural women, acute and chronic stress from social involvement may play an important part in this process. Accordingly, I investigate how social networks, support, and integration impact mental and physical health across time using the Health and Retirement Study. I test whether rural residence alters the effect of social relationships to deteriorate health, along with poverty and minority status.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Rural Health, Rural Populations

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

Exploring the Social Environment of Older Adults

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA