Abstract: Factors That Affect the Health of Older Adults in Rural Pennsylvania (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Factors That Affect the Health of Older Adults in Rural Pennsylvania

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Cave Creek, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
FangHsun Wei, Ph D, Professor, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, Kutztown University, PA
Christopher Harris, PhD, Assistant Professor, Kutztown University, PA
Mary Weller, Ph. D., Assistant Professor, Kutztown University, PA
Background and Purpose:

Social isolation increases the risk of early death and disability. Individuals who lack social connections or report frequent feelings of loneliness tend to suffer higher rates of serious health problems that disproportionately affect rural residents compared with those of their urban counterparts. By 2030, it is estimated that there will be 2.2 million adults 65 years of age or older in Pennsylvania. The purpose of this study is to identify the factors that affect older adults’ health.


We selected five rural Pennsylvania counties by using selection criteria of regions with an average density and relatively higher population of disabled and low-income older adults. Simple random sampling was used to select participants who were 65 or older. We sent out 4,000 surveys; the independent variables were gender, marital status, education, number of people living in the participant’s home, annual household income, social isolation, and emotional support. We used PROMIS Global Health for the dependent variable. Data analysis methods included descriptive analysis, independent t test, one-way ANOVA, and liner regression.


The data were obtained from 410 respondents, 222 (54.1%) male and 188 (45.9%) female, with an average age of 76 years. An average of 1.68 people live in the participants’ homes. For the marital status, 34 (8.3%) reported being single, 218 (53.2%) married, 43 (10.5%) divorced, 114 (27.8%) widowed, and 1 (0.2%) separated. For highest education, 6 (1.5%) people said other, 9 (2.2%) middle school, 172 (42%) high school, 141 (34.4%) college, 71 (17.3%) master, and 11 (2.7%) doctorate. The average household income was $52,479.79. The loneliness composite score ranged from 5 to 25, with a mean score of 20.14. Higher scores indicate less loneliness. The composite PROMIS Emotional Support scores ranged from 4 to 20, with a mean score of 16.96. Higher scores mean more emotional support. The PROMIS Health composite scores ranged from 20 to 50, with a mean score of 38.23. Higher scores mean better health conditions.

The inferential analysis results indicated that marital status, household income, loneliness, and emotional support all significantly impact health. Based on the findings, higher household income, fewer loneliness feelings, more emotional support, and being married are important factors that improve older adults’ physical and mental health.

Conclusions and Implications:

Our results indicated that most of our participants are married and have a college education. Most of them rated themselves as having good emotional support, being less likely to feel lonely, having average health conditions, and having average household income of $52,479.79. Thus, marital status, income, loneliness, and emotional support all impact older adults’’ health. We suggest the government and social welfare agencies provide social connection programs and improve current Medicaid and Medicare services to help improve rural Pennsylvania older adults’ physical and mental health conditions. We also discuss the policy implications in this paper.