The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered patterns of social interaction, yet the effects of this change on older adults’ overall quality of life have yet to be explored. Psychological sense of community (PSOC) has been identified as a key determinant of quality of life for older adults in Puerto Rico. For cultural reasons, this dynamic may differ for men and women. Social identity theory and critical feminist theory emphasize the value of social inclusion for quality of life. Both theories posit that social exclusion based on group affiliation, such as sex, contributes to perceptions of decreased quality of life. The discrimination and unjust treatment that women historically face due to gendered perceptions (e.g., prejudices and sex roles) is engrained in traditionally patriarchal cultures, including Puerto Rico. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship of PSOC and quality of life by sex. Specifically, we hypothesized that PSOC would be positively associated with quality of life, and that sex would moderate this relationship.
This cross-sectional study recruited a nonprobability sample of 213 older adults (≥60 years old) in Puerto Rico. Data were collected through telephone (29.1%) and in-person (79.1%) interviews between January and December 2021. The sample comprised similar proportions of males (44.1%) and females (55.9%). Average age was 71.9 years (SD = 8.7). We measured PSOC with the Brief Sense of Community Scale (M = 23.7, SD = 7.6) and quality of life with the EUROHIS-QOL (M = 23.1, SD = 5.4). Each scale contains eight items scored on a 5-point Likert scale. Higher scores indicate higher PSOC and better quality of life. Controlling for the dichotomous covariates of annual income, cohabitation status, and marital status, we conducted multiple linear regression analysis to test study hypotheses.
The regression model accounted for 21.8% of the variance in quality of life, F(7, 183) = 8.55, p < .001. Annual income ≥$15,000 (vs. <$15,000; b = 1.62, p = .029) and mean-centered PSOC (b = 0.41, p < .001) were positively associated with quality of life. Sex was not independently associated with PSOC (p = .305), but it significantly moderated the association between mean-centered PSOC and quality of life (b = −0.19, p = .038). Moderation results showed that this association was stronger for females than males.
Conclusions and Implications
These results suggest that PSOC is an important intervention point for improving quality of life among older adults during COVID-19, when social contacts and interactions with other community members are severely limited. The significant moderating effect of sex is consistent with traditional sex roles in Puerto Rico, whereby women have been expected to take on communal roles (e.g., caregiving) in families and communities. Strategies to promote PSOC in this population should account for such sex differences, including soliciting input and guidance from older women. Policymakers should be particularly attentive to cultural context, specifically gender roles, in reinvigorating connections with community to improve older adults’ well-being as we transition through the next phases of COVID-19.