Predicting ethnic variation in adaptation to later life: styles of socioemotional functioning and constrained heterotypy.

Nathan S. Consedine, Carol Magai, Francine Conway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


It is an axiom of social gerontology that populations of older individuals become increasingly differentiated as they age. Adaptations to physical and social losses and the increased dependency that typically accompany greater age are likely to be similarly heterogeneous, with different individuals adjusting to the aging process in widely diverse ways. In this paper we consider how individuals with diverse emotional and regulatory profiles, different levels of religiosity, and varied patterns of social relatedness fare as they age. Specifically, we examine the relation between ethnicity and patterns of socioemotional adaptation in a large, ethnically diverse sample (N = 1118) of community-dwelling older adults. Cluster analysis was applied to 11 measures of socioemotional functioning. Ten qualitatively different profiles were extracted and then related to a measure of physical resiliency. Consistent with ethnographic and psychological theory, individuals from different ethnic backgrounds were unevenly distributed across the clusters. Resilient participants of African descent (African Americans, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Barbadians) were more likely to manifest patterns of adaptation characterized by religious beliefs, while resilient US-born Whites and Immigrant Whites were more likely to be resilient as a result of non-religious social connectedness. Taken together, although these data underscore the diversity of adaptation to later life, we suggest that patterns of successful adaptation vary systematically across ethnic groups. Implications for the continued study of ethnicity in aging and directions for future research are given.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-131
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of cross-cultural gerontology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2004
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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