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MELBA SANCHEZ-AYENDEZ, University of Massachusetts - Amherst


Studies of elderly adults in minority groups in the United States have rarely focused on the cultural contents of ethnicity as variables that affect adjustment to old age. This study treats cultural value orientations as central to understanding how minority elders approach growing old and meet the changes associated with aging. It describes the interplay of values and behavior in the social networks and daily lives of older Puerto Rican women and illustrates the cultural continuities that structure the process of aging for them.^ This analysis is based on data collected during1981-1983 in an ethnographic investigation of the lifeways, value orientations, and support systems of 16 Puerto Rican women, between the ages of 60 and 84, in a city in the northeast United States. The primary research methods used were participant-observation and intensive interviewing which focused on the respondents' expectations, normative behavior and utilization of social networks during everyday life and times of crisis.^ The women studied exhibit strong similarities in attitudes, behavior and supportive exchanges that are culturally-based. Familial and community networks, as well as social agencies, provide the respondents with viable systems of support. The elderly women have a place in the functional structure of their families and play important roles in providing their families with assistance. Values which emphasize family interdependence, respeto, personalismo, and differential roles of men and women provide a shared framework of meaning that shapes expectations of and behavior in supportive exchanges.^ The study contributes ethnographic data on older minority women, supports the continuity theory of aging in gerontology, and adds to the anthropological understanding of the dynamics of ethnicity. It also suggests the need for greater sensitivity toward cultural variations and seeing the elderly within the context of family relations in the planning and delivery of services for older adults in the United States. ^

Subject Area

Anthropology, Cultural

Recommended Citation

MELBA SANCHEZ-AYENDEZ, "PUERTO RICAN ELDERLY WOMEN: AGING IN AN ETHNIC MINORITY GROUP IN THE UNITED STATES" (January 1, 1984). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. Paper AAI8500132.