As people age, they face challenges that they may never have experienced before. Loss of friends due to death, loss of independence as a result of diminished income, and loss of physical health can all create significant stress in a person’s life. The way that people choose to cope with that stress is directly related to the skills they learned throughout their lives. Attachment styles developed in early childhood can dictate the response people have to a variety of stressors, including ones encountered in later years. Additionally, an individual’s ethnic origin influences how he or she will respond to stress at various stages. To better understand how attachment style affects coping and overall well-being in older adults and what role ethnicity plays, Eva-Maria Merz of the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute at The Hague in the Netherlands recently conducted a study of 1,116 older adults from varying cultural backgrounds.
The participants, which included European Americans, African Americans, Eastern European immigrants, and Caribbean immigrants, were examined to determine how attachment style affected their well-being. Specifically, Merz looked at secure or dismissive attachment styles in comparison to avoidant and fearful attachment styles. “As expected, secure attachment and dismissive attachment were associated with greater well-being, whereas ambivalent/fearful attachment was related to reduced well-being in this older cohort,” said Merz. The link between secure attachment and positive well-being was most evident among the Caribbean and African American participants and weakest among the other two groups. When she looked at avoidant/fearful attachment styles, Merz discovered that it negatively impacted well-being in all the ethnic groups with the exception of the Caribbeans.
The results of this study support previous research highlighting the importance of healthy attachment styles on well-being. This new evidence extends the existing data by demonstrating that attachment styles are especially important in later life when unique challenges arise. Further, attachment styles are influenced by ethnicity. Taken together, this information provides new insight into the underlying factors that contribute to the general physical and mental health of older adults and should be considered when implementing interventions to help older adults cope with life’s stressors.
Merz, E.-M., Consedine, N. S. (2012). Ethnic group moderates the association between attachment and well-being in later life. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029595
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