Journal of Gerontological Nursing

Leisure and the Older Black Woman

Victoria Chin-Sang, PhD, RN, CS; Katherine R Allen, PhD

Abstract

INTRODUCTION

Leisure has long been of interest to scholars and researchers from various disciplines.1 However, leisure is an area not yet studied by nurse researchers. There has been a proliferation of research conducted in the use of leisure time at the end of the occupational cycle.2 Most studies have concentrated on leisure participation among older persons in an attempt to delineate factors involved in life satisfaction.3

Despite the extensive amount of leisure research recently conducted, there is a limited amount of empirical data on older black persons and leisure.4 Hearn examined the effectiveness of an instrument in gathering pertinent data relating to aging patterns of the urban black experience of older persons.5 Based on thoughts and feelings described for the aging black experience, the researcher concluded that the instrument was successful in gathering relevant data about work, leisure, family, and health.

Lambing examined leisure activities of older black persons who had retired from the professions, blue-collar work, service occupations, domestic work, and common labor.6 Conclusions were that the number of leisure activities in which an older black person engages is dependent on socioeconomic status and perceived state of health, but not on age or actual number of chronic conditions. When older black persons were included in other research efforts, the personal variables of race and gender were not controlled.1 However, divergent population groups may differ in their perceptions of leisure.7 In the case of older black women, the frame of reference used to evaluate life experiences will be based on social and cultural differences resulting from a legacy of deprivation and a lifetime of second-class citizenship.8·9 These social and cultural complexities may alter older black women's perception of leisure, contributing to their unique point of view, which professional nurses need to understand.

This study describes the meaning of leisure in the lives of older black women. Symbolic interaction theory, the framework for the study, posits that individuals live in a symbolic as well as a physical environment, and that they acquire complex sets of symbols in their minds. The ultimate aim of symbolic interaction is to discover the subjective, symbolic side of social life by observing the individual's use of symbols.10

This framework allows the researcher to use older black women's words, obtained through open-ended statements on an interview guide. Each woman uses words or symbols to interpret or define situations. Qualitative analysis of the words develops a description of leisure as experienced by the women. Findings can then be communicated in the words of the women who defined leisure and as part of their life experiences. This article addresses the research question: What are the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors identified by older black women for the leisure experience? Leisure was defined as an intrinsically motivated subjective experience engaged in for selfdevelopment and fulfillment.11

METHODOLOGY

A qualitative research strategy was used to collect data for the study. This method focuses on the discovery of subjective experiences through interview, which provides a firsthand account of life events.12 Qualitative research methodology combined with symbolic interaction theory sets the stage for the rich data to emerge during the in-depth interviews. As the women talked about personal experiences in everyday life, their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors during leisure were expressed in their own terminology. Thus, the women became experts in describing their leisure. The verbatim responses became the raw data for analysis.

Sample Description

Thirty Afro-American women bom between 1 896 and 1 923 participated in this study. All of the women were active members of Protestant churches and lived on fixed incomes. The most prevalent health problems among the women were hypertension, arthritis,…

INTRODUCTION

Leisure has long been of interest to scholars and researchers from various disciplines.1 However, leisure is an area not yet studied by nurse researchers. There has been a proliferation of research conducted in the use of leisure time at the end of the occupational cycle.2 Most studies have concentrated on leisure participation among older persons in an attempt to delineate factors involved in life satisfaction.3

Despite the extensive amount of leisure research recently conducted, there is a limited amount of empirical data on older black persons and leisure.4 Hearn examined the effectiveness of an instrument in gathering pertinent data relating to aging patterns of the urban black experience of older persons.5 Based on thoughts and feelings described for the aging black experience, the researcher concluded that the instrument was successful in gathering relevant data about work, leisure, family, and health.

Lambing examined leisure activities of older black persons who had retired from the professions, blue-collar work, service occupations, domestic work, and common labor.6 Conclusions were that the number of leisure activities in which an older black person engages is dependent on socioeconomic status and perceived state of health, but not on age or actual number of chronic conditions. When older black persons were included in other research efforts, the personal variables of race and gender were not controlled.1 However, divergent population groups may differ in their perceptions of leisure.7 In the case of older black women, the frame of reference used to evaluate life experiences will be based on social and cultural differences resulting from a legacy of deprivation and a lifetime of second-class citizenship.8·9 These social and cultural complexities may alter older black women's perception of leisure, contributing to their unique point of view, which professional nurses need to understand.

This study describes the meaning of leisure in the lives of older black women. Symbolic interaction theory, the framework for the study, posits that individuals live in a symbolic as well as a physical environment, and that they acquire complex sets of symbols in their minds. The ultimate aim of symbolic interaction is to discover the subjective, symbolic side of social life by observing the individual's use of symbols.10

This framework allows the researcher to use older black women's words, obtained through open-ended statements on an interview guide. Each woman uses words or symbols to interpret or define situations. Qualitative analysis of the words develops a description of leisure as experienced by the women. Findings can then be communicated in the words of the women who defined leisure and as part of their life experiences. This article addresses the research question: What are the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors identified by older black women for the leisure experience? Leisure was defined as an intrinsically motivated subjective experience engaged in for selfdevelopment and fulfillment.11

METHODOLOGY

A qualitative research strategy was used to collect data for the study. This method focuses on the discovery of subjective experiences through interview, which provides a firsthand account of life events.12 Qualitative research methodology combined with symbolic interaction theory sets the stage for the rich data to emerge during the in-depth interviews. As the women talked about personal experiences in everyday life, their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors during leisure were expressed in their own terminology. Thus, the women became experts in describing their leisure. The verbatim responses became the raw data for analysis.

Sample Description

Thirty Afro-American women bom between 1 896 and 1 923 participated in this study. All of the women were active members of Protestant churches and lived on fixed incomes. The most prevalent health problems among the women were hypertension, arthritis, and diabetes (Table 1). The sample was derived from a population of older adult persons who attended six senior citizens' nutrition and activity programs in northwest Florida. These sites were selected because of their concentration of black women. All of the women were retired with the exception of four, who worked part-time for fewer than 20 hours a week. These workers were employed as domestic workers, a practical nurse, and an elder care assistant (Table 2).

Table

TABLE 1DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS OF SAMPLE*

TABLE 1

DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS OF SAMPLE*

Data Collection

Three semi-structured pilot interviews were conducted to assess the feasibility of an interview guide and to perfect the methodology of the study. After refining the wording of the qualitative, open-ended statements, taperecorded interviews of 60 to 90 minutes were conducted with the sample. The first author conducted all interviews within a 3-month span. Interviews were held either in the woman's home or in a private room at the senior citizens' center.

Each interview began with an oral explanation of the purpose of the study, and then demographic data were collected. The women were then asked to respond to statements such as, "Tell me about your leisure." Probes were used to elicit additional information about leisure experiences. The women were asked to look at a 7-day calendar so that they could reflect on leisure experiences for the previous week. At the end of the interview, each woman was given an opportunity to add anything that was thought to be important and not discussed previously.

Data Analysis

The qualitative content analysis described by Taylor and Bogdan was used to analyze the data.12 This method begins with the raw data, which are the verbatim transcriptions from the in-depth interviews, and is a process of data reduction where the transcripts are read and reread in the search of themes and patterns. The three distinct phases of the Taylor and Bogdan method included discovering themes and patterns in the raw data; coding the raw data; and analyzing and synthesizing processed data. I2

Themes and patterns were formulated from significant statements in the verbatim transcripts by reading, rereading, taking notes, and reflecting on the significant statements describing older black women's leisure experiences. This process continued until each transcript was read a minimum of five times. These notes were grouped into major themes and subcategories as recommended by Taylor and Bogdan.12 Subcategories reflected related themes within the major theme.

Full quotations were selected from the transcripts to illustrate the subcategories. The major theme and subcategories were referred back to the original interview transcripts to validate them. In addition, a researcher not involved in other aspects of the study independently read through 10% of the interview transcripts to identify ambiguities, overlap, and lack of clarity in the major theme and subcategories. A description of older black women's thoughts, feelings, and behavior during leisure was obtained by the integration of the results of the analysis.

RESULTS

In response to the statement, "Tell me about your leisure," the women vividly described their everyday life. A common and major theme emerged and was coded "making it through the day." While recounting their experiences, some of the women were animated to the point where they moved their hands and arms to mimic involvement. Several women moved from a sitting to a standing position and began demonstrating their physical exercises. The majority of the women talked about living alone and their method of dealing with this situation . Four subcategories emerged from their descriptions: loneliness; church, worship, and duty; affiliative activities; and solitary activities. The descriptions of the four subcategories that follow characterize the sample.

Loneliness

The loss of family, friends, and others through death and separation is an important but natural consequence of aging.13 Lx)ss is also an antecedent of loneliness. During leisure, the women thought about loss. They reminisced about deceased parents, husbands, children, friends, and pets, as well as former homes and gardens. The women described thoughts focusing on loss and loneliness during leisure. One woman cited:

Table

TABLE 2PREVIOUS WORK EXPERIENCE OF SAMPLE*

TABLE 2

PREVIOUS WORK EXPERIENCE OF SAMPLE*

All of my friends and kin are dead or too old to get together anymore. Those last raised don't care nothing about me.

Another woman said:

Sometimes I wish someone would come in and talk with me or invite me out.

In addition to the loss of significant others, material loss was spoken of:

I close my eyes and think of the beautiful home and lovely garden I once had. I lived in that house for 69 years.

The women's thoughts were often pleasant in anticipation and recollection, but not necessarily in experiencing. For example, one woman smiled radiantly as she talked about former pets:

I love raising animals. My dog was I I years old and died last year. I had a cat since then, but not long ago. he just up and left. Nobody found him and I haven't decided to get another one. When you get attached to them, it's hard, you know.

This woman suddenly became tearful and acknowledged that thinking about her pets was painful. The majority of the women were experiencing loneliness. This loneliness is a partial function of the large number of women in the sample living alone. Dunn and Dunn described loneliness in the black experience as a feeling of being alone and without human support.14 Loneliness within this context suggests that the women have a need for access to others. The women were very resourceful. They ventured out, attempting to form meaningful relationships in their communities.

Church, Worship, and Duty

For blacks, the church did and still does provide spiritual assistance and a place for community gathering, especially for the impoverished.14 The older black women in this study coped with loneliness by increasing involvement in their churches. During stressful situations, the church served as a shelter and a refuge. It provided the women with a sense of connectedness. Twenty-three women were descriptive about their church life. As one woman said:

I go to church and I help bring persons into the church. . . bring them into the area where they can get proper instruction to become welldeserving citizens.

The following remarks by one woman illustrate her perception of attending church services as a duty:

I mink church is your spiritual obligation. . . . God has been good to me and I think I deserve giving Him time.

Church provided a continuation of past duties and commitments and is the only immutable phenomenon in their lives.

Affillative Activities

Dissolution of ties, due to loss and separation, intensifies the loneliness experienced during declining years.13 Interactions through affiliation have been attributed to psychosocial wellbeing. ,5 The women reported on affiliations extending beyond family ties to include long-standing friendships that have been nurtured through the years. Attempts were made to replace irretrievable relationships by congregating with older adults or by providing services for others. The women eased their feelings of loneliness by frequently attending senior citizens' centers. One woman's comment illustrates this:

I spend most of my time in the streets. . . marketing and at the Center. . . . Those people treat me like I'm their sister or daughter. . . treat me very nice.

The support received from friends, neighbors, and women at the senior citizens' centers was important. As one woman described:

I feel good when I go to the Center because I can reminisce with the ladies. That's what I go there for, to socialize.

The women expressed strong needs to nurture and take care of others. One woman reported:

I like to help people out. . . do the housework, run errands if I'm able to go and it's not too far. . . makes me feel good to know I can do some of these things for them.

In these affiliated relationships there is an undeniable, unspoken, strong bond among the older women. This bond is positive and provides the women with a feeling of security. When together, a sense of camaraderie, love, and 'belonging is felt. Many of the women have known each other for years, and have coped with and endured various situational crises. They share a common lifestyle. I4

Solitary Activities

Although the. women's descriptions indicated that they are highly affiliative, they also invested time in active and passive solitary activities. Active behaviors required the women to use vigor and creative abilities. Fourteen women described involvement in lively activities that provided the opportunity to stretch their muscles, flex their joints, expand their lung capacities, and increase their heart rates. Walking, riding a tricycle, gardening, and exercising while swimming and watching television were reported as activities enabling the women to improve their health and prevent disease. Eleven women were involved in artistic and creative activities such as crocheting, quilting, and playing the organ.

Passive behaviors did not require the women to use physical energy. All 30 women in the sample were involved in media activities. They read Bibles and newspapers, watched television, and listened to the radio. Three women reported instances in which they "just sat and relaxed." The women did not use one type of leisure to the exclusion of the other. Hearn identified similar leisure patterns among elderly black men and women.5

The data were examined for within group comparisons, the 4 women working part-time to the 26 retirees, and the 23 living alone to the 7 living with others, to see if there were similarities or differences in the meaning of leisure for them in terms of employment status and current residential status. These two distinctions did not differentiate the sample.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS

The older black women interviewed for this study have experienced a lifetime of economic and social deprivation, a finding that is well-documented in the literature on minority aging groups. Missing from this literature, however, is an appreciation of the leisure pursuits of older black women and the resourcefulness they exercise in the face of increasing losses.

The 30 women in this study described common thoughts, feelings, and behaviors for the leisure experience. These were grouped into four subcategories: loneliness; church, worship, and duty; affiliative activities; and solitary activities. All of the women in this study described the narrowing of their family circles, yet they sought and maintained extra-familial connections, a characteristic of American black women elaborated by Stack16 and prevalent among white working class women.17 This study revealed that these 30 women, as do other women in general, have the ability to replace personal network losses with other significant relationships and activities.18,19

The women also relied on solitary activities to promote their physical, spiritual, and emotional health. Practitioners may wish to note, as well, the importance of the community institutions on which they relied - their church and senior center. These older black women cared for themselves as they aged, and they provided care for others in their affiliative groups. Such self-help practices and informal assistance to others often represent unacknowledged and untapped resources among aging individuals. The examination of leisure within the context of women's daily activities of self-care and the care of others sheds light on ways of helping older black women maintain independence in the face of increasing losses.

REFERENCES

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TABLE 1

DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS OF SAMPLE*

TABLE 2

PREVIOUS WORK EXPERIENCE OF SAMPLE*

10.3928/0098-9134-19910101-09

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