Academic journal article Social Work

Associations among Economic Need, Self-Esteem, and Israeli Arab Women's Attitudes toward and Use of Professional Services

Academic journal article Social Work

Associations among Economic Need, Self-Esteem, and Israeli Arab Women's Attitudes toward and Use of Professional Services

Article excerpt

The underutilization of professional services by people in need has been explained by a variety of factors, including sociodemographic features such as gender (Feinson, Popper, & Handelsman, 1992; Raviv & Yunovitz, 1989) and age (Weeks & Cuellar, 1981); negative attitudes toward help-seeking (Veroff, Kulka, & Douran, 1981); the availability of other sources of assistance (Gross & McMullen, 1983); and a variety of personality factors (Nadler, 1991), including locus of control and authoritarianism (Fischer & Turner, 1970), achievement motivation (Tessler & Schwartz, 1972), and self-consciousness (DePaulo, Brown, & Greenberg, 1983; Rosen, 1983).

One explanation that has gained wide acceptance is that help seeking may be avoided to preserve self-esteem. This explanation is expounded in what has been called the "threat to self-esteem" model. The model's basic tenet is that seeking help exacts a psychological price in the form of reduced self-esteem, so people with high self-esteem generally seek help less, because they have more to lose than those with low self-esteem (Fisher, Nadler, & Whitcher-Alagna, 1982; Nadler, 1986, 1991).

Miller (1985) raised the question of whether people with high self-esteem have less need for help or simply are less willing to seek help than their low self-esteem counterparts. A number of experimental studies that attempted to investigate this question found that, when need was held constant, people with lower self-esteem in fact did seek help more often (Nadler, 1986, 1991; Nadler & Fux, 1984; Tessler & Schwartz, 1972).

The studies that support the view that the level of self-esteem is an important determinant of help-seeking behavior are mostly laboratory studies, however, in which need was usually operationalized in terms of instructions to complete an artificial pen-and-paper task such as an anagram. It can be argued that real-life need, whether psychological or instrumental, was not really present in these studies.

The relatively few field studies that have been carried out have inconsistent findings. Siegman (1974) found that individuals with high self-esteem were less inclined to seek help for psychiatric problems. Weiss and Knight (1980) and Burke and Weir (1976) found that people with high self-esteem were less ready to seek help from their colleagues in the office, and Karabenick and Knapp (1991) found that university students with high self-esteem were less ready to seek help with their studies than their peers with low self-esteem. Nadler, Sheinberg, and Jaffe (1981), on the other hand, claimed that paraplegics with high self-esteem sought more help than those lower in self-esteem, and Nadler and Levinstein (1985) made similar claims about parents of retarded children. The inconsistencies may be attributed to differences in the way in which self-esteem was measured in the various studies or to the differences in the areas in which help was sought or to both of these variables. For example, the Weiss and Knight and the Karabenick and Knapp studies measured self-esteem using the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Inventory (1965); Nadler et al. (1981) extrapolated self-esteem from subjects' scores on Linkowski's Acceptance of Physical Disability Scale (1971). Moreover, it may be asked whether self-esteem plays the same role in help seeking for physical and mental disabilities as it does for other types of needs.

This study examines the role of real-life economic need in the help-seeking attitudes and behavior of a group of Arab women living in Jaffa, a part of Tel Aviv, where there is considerable economic hardship. A 1984 report on the socioeconomic conditions of Arab families in Jaffa cited dilapidated and overcrowded dwellings, a high rate of unskilled labor, and generally low income. The report concluded that most of these families lived in serious economic distress. A comparative study that attempted to rank the socioeconomic status of more than 50 neighborhoods in Tel Aviv-Jaffa ranked Arab Jaffa at the bottom (Harpaz, 1986). …

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