Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Married Women in Missions: The Effects of Cross-Cultural and Self Gender-Role Expectations on Well-Being, Stress, and Self-Esteem

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Married Women in Missions: The Effects of Cross-Cultural and Self Gender-Role Expectations on Well-Being, Stress, and Self-Esteem

Article excerpt

The present study explored the effects of self-expectations and societal expectations of the host culture on the well-being of 37 married missionary women. The results did not support a relationship between the expectations of the host culture, and well-being. Homemakers appeared to be more relaxed and to experience life as more satisfying and interesting than women involved more actively in the missions task. The congruence of roles with self-expectations, role satisfaction, and freedom in choosing a role emerged as highly related to several indices of well-being. These findings highlight the centrality of freedom in choosing a role, and suggest that important subcultural differences in self-expectations exist in the Christian subculture which should be taken into account in research on women's issues.


As today's world has grown smaller through the internationalization of politics and economy, cross-cultural living has become more common. Many individuals and families now face the challenges of living as sojourners in a different country, whether it be as part of the business world, through the State Department, or as missionaries.

The challenges of cross-cultural living have been studied in an attempt to facilitate the work of these cross-cultural sojourners. Some of this literature has focused on missionaries. Recent research in the area of missions and mental health has shown that missionaries as a group are subject to a great number of stressors, many of which are unique to living cross-culturally, or are exacerbated by these circumstances. Chester (1983) suggested that the resulting burnout may be more of a problem with missionary wives than with their husbands because of the role into which they feel they must fit in addition to the isolation and confinement (both cultural and social) that they often experience.

Additional data confirm Chester's hypothesis that women missionaries may face unique cross-cultural stressors. Gish (1983) had a sample of 549 missionaries rate a number of common stressors. Her results confirm Chester's hypothesis that burnout may be more of a problem among women on the field than among men. Of eleven significant gender differences on certain sources of stress, ten variables were significantly more stressful for women than for men. Among the variables identified in this way were coworker's attitudes toward their job, loneliness and isolation, self-acceptance, and communicating across the cultural and language barriers--all of which are related in some way to role issues. Carter (1999) replicated Gish's study with more stringent statistical cutoffs for significance, and similarly found that extended family concerns and relationship with spouse of partner were reported as more significant sources of stress for women than for men. These findings again highlight the role tensions between family demands and work that women experience.

Though no empirical studies have been done relating role issues to stress in married women missionaries, the existing theoretical literature suggests that there is a link between roles and stress. Married women missionaries may face more stress than their husbands because of the multiplicity of roles that they assume, as well as frequent role changes. O'Donnell (1987) presented a family life cycle approach to aid in understanding the missionary family. In almost every stage, the woman must face major role renegotiations. Initially, this involves balancing the responsibilities of childrearing with mission-related work and domestic duties. Later, as midlife career issues come to the forefront, she may want to develop herself further as a person beyond the roles of childrearing and homemaking. When the children leave the home, her marital role will need to adjust, and she will be free to become more active outside of the home. This last transition can be particularly difficult for women who have to that point found their main role identity as a mother. …

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