Abstract: The Intersection of Familism and Perceptions of Successful Aging Among Older Latino Adults in the Chicagoland Area: Results from a Multimethod, Qualitative Study (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

The Intersection of Familism and Perceptions of Successful Aging Among Older Latino Adults in the Chicagoland Area: Results from a Multimethod, Qualitative Study

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 9, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Alexis Howard, Ph.D., Researcher, University of Chicago, IL
Lissette Piedra, PhD, LCSW, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Melissa Howe, PhD, Senior Scientist, NORC, IL
Background: Scholars have observed that a critical component of the aging process is social and structural (Riley & Riley, 1994).  As such, how the aging process is define and experienced can vary considerably among different sociocultural groups. For example, North Americans view “successful aging” as the maintenance of social and physical independence, whereas Latin Americans see aging as a natural social transition that occurs within an interdependent family context. However, few studies have examined how older Latinos living in North America conceptualize “successful aging,” and how their exposure to multiple cultural narratives shape their expectations for aging. This study asked older Latino adults to describe what “successful aging” or “aging well” would look like for them, and how they would address any future health needs.

Methods: We conducted a content analysis of nine focus groups (N =101) and 20 interviews with Latino older adults across the Chicagoland area. Focus group participants were recruited from local organizations that provide services to older adults in the area, such as churches, community centers, and healthcare facilities. The focus groups were coded to discern common themes. These themes were used to create an interview guide to probe for further detail in the interviews.  Of the 20 interview participants, six were recruited from the focus group participants, eight were recruited from other churches and community centers, and an additional six were recruited via snowball sampling to enroll participants unconnected with any of the aforementioned social institutions.

Results: Latino older adults, including foreign-born adults, used rhetoric associated with “successful aging,” widely attributed to Rowe and Khan (1987, 1997, 1998, 2015) which emphasizes the importance to remain disease free, exhibit high cognitive and physical functioning, and maintain social engagements. However, participants also evoked cultural values of respeto and familismo; the importance of family and respect were consider vital to aging well.  For many participants, “successful old age” entails maintaining one’s autonomy and physical independence in the context of an interdependent, kin-focused, social life. While many participants articulated an aversion to becoming dependent, they also expressed hope that family members—especially children—would care for them as they advanced in age. Although these relationships were generally seen as positive, some participants cautioned that adherence to respeto and familismo can come with considerable drawbacks, especially for those who intensely self-sacrificed for their families.

Conclusions and Implications: Descriptions of “successful aging” may be more culturally transferable than previously thought. However, the balance of autonomy and physical independence with family obligations and kin relations produces a number challenges for Latino adults as they transitioned into to older adulthood. The competing desires for autonomy and interdependence can create a contentious landscape for Latino families as they make future decisions about living situations and care arrangements. Social workers should be sensitive to these complexities and tailor social services to support families in a way that respects the Latino senior’s need to maintain independence while retaining meaningful connections to family.