Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Love Experiences of Older African Americans: A Qualitative Study

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Love Experiences of Older African Americans: A Qualitative Study

Article excerpt


Love as an emotion at the individual level has implications for sexual morality and ethics. The subject of love has been intensively analyzed and critiqued by both philosophers and theologians who hold similar views of love from a social justice perspective (Niebuhr, 1957; Butigan, 2003; Farley, 2006). Both contend that social justice concepts are variously viewed and interpreted by communities in their effort to promote happiness and well-being (Martindale and Saunders, 1992; Jolly, 2005). From a theological perspective, love is considered an essential base for psychological unity, reproduction and appreciation. Lay persons straddle philosophical and theological views of love within the social spaces constructed at the intersections of multitudes of social and demographic characteristics. The perceived meaning individuals hold at various social intersections lays the foundation for a theory of sexual ethics and love. The purpose of this paper is to explore the meaning of love among African American elderly men and women in the United States.

The proportion of the elderly aged 65 years and above in the U.S. increased from about 4% of the population in 1900 to about 12% in 2000 (Himes, 2001). This proportion is expected to increase by another five percent toward the end of this decade. Life expectancy in the United States has increased for almost all social groups (Weinstein and Pillai, 2001). As people age, they lose a spouse or partner, friends and close relatives. Those who survive often lack the support network. Studies have shown that after the death of a spouse, a high proportion of bereaved spouses experience high mortality and morbidity risks (Bonanno & Kaltman, 1999; Hall & Irwin, 2001; Caserta, Lund, & Obray, 2004

Older adults experience several types of losses such as job, career, health and standard of living. With reductions in income, quality of living arrangements is likely to decline along with increases in concerns for physical and emotional security. The fear of crime is pervasive among older adults. Fear engenders a growing sense of powerlessness especially for those who are not in an intimate relationship. The feeling of loneliness is likely to increase with age among growing proportion of older adults living alone and uninvolved in an intimate relationship (Tijhuis, et al, 1999). Lack of intimate relationships is one of the most important determinants of feelings of loneliness (Tiikkainen, Heikkinen and Leskinen, 2004). The suicide prevalence rate among older adults is the highest among all groups in the United States (Alston, Rankin, & Harris, 1995) Even among individuals who are financially and physically secure, emotional needs often remain unmet, resulting in a high risk of loneliness and decreased life satisfaction (Bulcroft & O'Connor, 1986). The joint effects of loneliness and fear of crime are likely to decrease the level of well-being among the elderly.

Minority elderly are particularly vulnerable to loneliness. A long history of oppression of minority populations such as African Americans has contributed to a decline in the mental and physical health status among minority elderly (Mills & Edwards, 2002; Schiele, 2005; Gabbidon & Peterson, 2006). African American elderly are far more likely to be alone than the rest of the elderly. Approximately 35% of African American elderly aged 65-74 live alone, compared to 22% of the white elderly in 2009 (U.S. Bureau of Census, 2007). Nearly 48% of African American women and 19% of men are widowed. Among African Americans over age 65, 54% of men and 25% of women are married, compared to 80% and 40% among whites (AARP, 1990). Systematic declines in well-being experienced by any group are a matter of concern both from a social justice and human rights perspective.

Barriers to communication and seeking intimate relationships are particularly acute among nursing home elderly (Hicks, 2000). …

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