Pathways to Well-Being : A Mixed Methods Study on Purpose in Life in Middle Adulthood Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/sb397c307

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  • An ability to meet the changing demands associated with development promotes purpose in life, a defining feature of psychological well-being. Midlife adults consistently report higher purpose in life compared to older adults. However, less is known about the dynamics of purpose in life in the transition from middle to older adulthood. This mixed methods study first examined quantitative trajectories of purpose in life over a five year period and explored the extent to which individuals' psychosocial characteristics predicted different trajectories. A qualitative inquiry followed to gain a deeper understanding of the quantitative results by exploring ways in which midlife adults define, pursue, and adjust their purpose in life over time. This study used a sample of late midlife adults who took part in the Foley Longitudinal Study of Adulthood during a five-year period between 2008 and 2014. The sample included 70 African Americans and 90 White Americans (age=55–58 at Time 1). Purpose in life was measured annually with the Psychological Well-Being Purpose in Life subscale. Non-normal growth mixture modeling was the statistical procedure utilized to identify patterns of purpose in life trajectories, and to predict such patterns using baseline characteristics, including gender, race, education, personality traits, and generativity. Results suggested purpose in life was stable and non-normally distributed over the five-year period. Trait conscientiousness significantly predicted higher levels of purpose in life after adjusting for other baseline characteristics. Moreover, African Americans tended to have higher purpose in life than White Americans. For subsequent qualitative analysis, a subsample of sixteen female participants was purposively sampled to explore how participants with higher and lower trajectories of purpose in life defined their own purpose in life over time. The issue associated with intersectionality of gender and race and an imbalance in high and low trajectories by race and gender led to the decision to focus on female participants. Following the review of their Time 1 and Time 5 life-story interview transcripts, the sections of future script and major life themes were selected for analysis. A thematic analysis across the subsample was used. Seven main themes emerged that captured aspects related to purpose in life. The participants discussed their major life themes as being proactive, being reactive, having faith, and/or centering on relationships. Their sources of purpose in life included self-needs, work, family relationships, personal development, caring for others, and spirituality. The findings indicated similar sources of purpose in life between those with higher and lower purpose in life, such as work, family relationships, personal development, and spirituality. However, the findings also suggested different underlying pathways to higher versus lower purpose in life. Those higher in purpose in life tended to attain a proactive versus reactive major life theme and to be more others- versus self-oriented. Partially supporting the quantitative result, some racial differences were identified. In terms of family relationships, White participants tended to discuss their romantic relationships with their husbands, whereas African American participants were more likely to be single and hoped to pursue marriage in the future. In terms of spirituality, there were two African Americans actively practicing spirituality by teaching others, while three White participants were searching for more concrete sense of spirituality. The effect of conscientiousness suggested by quantitative findings was not supported. Consistent with prior research, it is likely that trait conscientiousness is related to certain psychological resources to strive for purpose in life from a variety of sources. This study is the first longitudinal attempt to explore the trajectory of purpose in life late middle adulthood. A unique strength of the study is the use of mixed methods approach that incorporates survey and narrative interview data, allowing for meaningful discussions between theories of purpose in life and individuals who are experiencing purpose in life in daily lives. Purpose in life among the sample shows a stable non-normally distributed trajectory, in which those higher in conscientiousness and African Americans are more likely to report higher-stable purpose in life. The qualitative findings further provide insights into how participants may pursue purpose in life similarly and differently across trajectories of purpose in life, race, and conscientiousness. Due to the sample selection, the generalizability of these results is limited. Nevertheless, the integrative method enables a more comprehensive understanding of purpose in life in late midlife. Future studies should investigate development of purpose in life from a larger and more diverse sample, which includes men as well as women.
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