Nicole E Ennis, Stevan E Hobfoll, Kerstin E E Schroder «Money doesn’t talk, it swears: How economic stress and resistance resources impact inner-city women’s depressive mood»
American Journal of Community Psychology.New York. Apr 2000. Volume: 28. Issue: 2. Start Page: 149.
Abstract: We examined the differential impact of chronic versus acute economic stress on depressive mood among a sample of 1241 low-income, single, European and African American women. Based on Hobfoll’s (1988,1989) conservation of resources (COR) theory, we predicted that acute resource loss would be more distressing than chronic economic lack. That is, although chronically impoverished conditions are stressful, the attendant resource losses created will be more distressing. We further predicted that mastery and social support would be more beneficial in offsetting the negative consequences of acute resource loss than the negative consequences of chronic economic lack, because acute loss creates identifiable demands that resources may address. Hence, we hypothesized that mastery and social support would show stress buffering effects only for material loss, not chronic lack. The findings generally supported the hypotheses, but mastery buffered only European American women’s resource loss and social support buffered only African American women’s resource loss. The findings are discussed in light of implications for prevention within theoretical and cultural contexts.
Keywords: stress; socioeconomic status, African American: depression; mastery; social support.
Prevention theory and practice are often frustrated by the overwhelming nature of chronic conditions of poverty, given the limited tools and funds available for preventive intervention. Poverty is tied to many implacable factors, making it difficult to envision how intervention below the level of state or national policy change might limit poverty’s harm (Albee, 1986).
Poverty is particularly stable because it is linked to factors outside of individuals’ control, such as the structure of the U.S. economy, regional employment patterns, educational conditions, and availability of mass transit.
For poor women, gender-related power differentials and the stress of shouldering the major responsibility for pregnancy and parenting add further to chronic conditions associated with poverty (Belle, 1990).
Lack of employment opportunities and the decline in real wages, in addition, to other structural issues keep single women in particular in a chronic state of impoverishment (Belle, 1990; Bowen, Desimone, & McKay, 1995). This translates to women’s chronic economic status diminishing their educational opportunities, employment potential, and access to insurance and other work benefits (McLoyd, 1990; Turner, Wheaton, & Lloyd, 1995). Stress researchers have suggested that it is important to distinguish between the chronic lacking of resources and the acute resource losses that occur in the wake of chronically diminished economic conditions (Eckenrode, 1984; Turner et al., 1995; Hobfoll, 1989). However, researchers have seldom explored whether it is the chronic nature of poverty or the acute ramifications of poverty, such as problems obtaining and retaining necessary resources for living that impact psychological sequelae of economic stressors. This distinction has distinct implications for prevention theory and practice, because acute economic events might be more amenable to preventive intervention, even if the overall state of poverty is more intractable.
Chronic stressors may increase psychological distress both directly and indirectly through their leading to increased acute stressors (Hall, Williams, & Greenberg, 1985; Holahan, Moos, Holahan, & Brennan, 1997; McFarlane, Norman, & Streiner, 1983; Pearlin, Lieberman, Menaghan, & Mullan, 1981; Ross & Huber, 1985). This may be particularly true for lowincome populations and people of color whose resources may already be stretched by chronic negative economic and social conditions (Bowen et al., 1995; Dohrenwend & Dohrenwend, 1981; Jackson, 1993; Kessler & Cleary, 1980; Parry, 1986).
People with stronger personal and social resources such as mastery and social support, even if poor, may better withstand the influence of chronic and acute economic stressors (Belle, 1990; Parry, 1986). However, ongoing stress may also act by diminishing the availability of these resources, thus creating both increased psychological distress and diminished resistance capacity (Bolger, Vinokur, Foster, & Ng, 1996; Norris & Kaniasty,1996).
In this study, we examined whether chronic and acute economic stressors had distinguishable effects on psychological distress in a large sample of inner-city women. We further investigated whether personal and social resources, such as mastery and social support, might differentially limit the impact of chronic and acute economic stressors. Unpacking Stressful Conditions Stressors have often been distinguished as to their acute versus chronic nature, even if the different impact of these contrasting conditions has been understudied (Eckenrode, 1984; Pearlin et aL, 1981; Turner et al., 1995). First, stressors can be viewed as discrete events, acute problems, that occur in individuals’ lives (e.g., death of a loved one, job loss). These are often assessed by life events checklists (Dohrenwend, Dohrenwend, Dodson, & Shrout, 1984). Stressors can alternatively be viewed as chronic conditions such as poverty or physical handicap (Pearlin et al., 1981; Turner et aL, 1995).
Researchers commonly measure stressful life events using life events checklists (Nelson & Cohen, 1983; Kobasa & Pucetti, 1983; Lefcourt, Martin, & Saleh, 1984; Holahan, & Moos, 1991). However, life event checklists are superficial.
One central problem is their confounding with measures of psychological distress (Dohrenwend et aL, 1984). For example, marital discord may be both a stressor and a result of stressful life events. Second, stressful life events do not accurately operationalize individuals’ objective interface with stress. Brown, Bifulco, and Harris (1987) found that more sensitive characterization of life events revealed an increased association between events and the onset of depression.
According to Brown (1989) and Dohrenwend, Raphael, Schwartz, Stueve, and Skodol (1993) stressful life events need to be further delineated or “unpacked.”
As they argue, the labels given to various stressful life experiences reflect different objective event sequences. For example, divorce is a stressful event that represents different objective subevents depending on individuals’ situations. Divorce could involve increased freedom, improved economic resources, and the acquisition of social support, or it could involve a decrease in these same resources or any combination of these subevents. Past research may have interpreted different reactions to events as attributable to individual differences in appraisals alone, whereas at least part of the problem lies with imprecise assessment of objective stressors (Dohrenwend et al., 1984; Turner et al., 1995; Wells, Hobfoll, & Lavin, 1997).
Problems related to event unpacking arise in the study of economic difficulties due to the gross economic indicators generally used. Specifically, when studying economic hardship the chronic lacking of resources is typically studied in terms of socioeconomic status (SES) (Brown et al., 1987;
Takeuchi, & Leaf, 1991; Kessler & Cleary, 1980; Liem & Liem, 1978). However, those suffering from chronic economic hardship need to be differentiated based on varying subevents that may influence their objective experience.
All individuals making less than $10,000 a year do not have the same objective experiences. Some will have more daily economic hardships, whereas others will be more sheltered due to social support, welfare, and access to social services (e.g., medical care, daycare).
One way to examine better economic hardship is to assess simultaneously acute material loss and SES (Pearlin et al., 1981). This more contextualized information unveils the process by which chronic conditions may reverberate to influence particular loss circumstances. Acute stressors have a more varying and transient relationship to psychological distress than chronic hardships (Avison & Turner, 1988). In the case of economic stressors, however, chronic conditions of poverty may produce repeated acute loss events. Thus, even before one acute loss event’s effect dissipates, another related acute stressor is likely to emerge from the same basic chronic source. Indeed, the related acute circumstances are likely to appear as arrays of acute stressors, rather than any single event, such that people must confront acute multiple stressors at any given time.
When considering women, pregnancy is another stressor of particular interest for understanding the burdens of poverty. Pregnancy itself is a time of increased stress that may make women more vulnerable to emotional distress (Tilden, 1983; Whiffen & Gotlib, 1993). Being single and of lower SES may combine to exacerbate the effects of pregnancy on psychological distress by producing a period of high resource demand coupled with decreased ability to work. Single mothers’ psychological well-being is particularly likely to be compromised during pregnancy (Gotlib, Whiffen, Mount, Milne, & Cordy, 1989; Hobfoll, Ritter, Lavin, Hulsizer, & Cameron, 1995). Despite the fact that being single and pregnant has become quite common (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991), little is known about stress for this population (Hobfoll et al., 1995). Therefore, pregnancy’s impact for lowerSES women is an issue that should also be addressed, a factor which led us to include a large subsample of pregnant women in our study.
Differential Impact of Mastery and Social Support
Chronic and acute stressors may also be influenced differently by people’s social and personal resources. Resources are defined in this case as social or personal characteristics that are typically valued by a broad class of individuals in and of themselves or for their utility in achieving goals (Diener & Fujita 1995; Hobfoll, 1989; Holahan & Moos, 1991). Acute stressors may be more readily offset by stress-resistance resources such as mastery and social support than are chronic economic problems because individuals have a clearer target upon which to focus the application of resources in their problem-solving efforts.
Mastery is defined as the extent individuals view their successful goal achievement to be in their general control (Pearlin et al., 1981). Mastery, and related concepts such as self-efficacy, have been found to limit the deleterious impact of stressful conditions by increasing the likelihood that individuals will seek and sustain efforts toward solving problems (Bandura, 1997; Cozzarelli, 1993). This occurs because they see themselves as likely to be successful and because they may actually be more effective in their coping efforts (Kobasa & Puccetti, 1983; Major, Richards, Cooper, Cozzarelli, & Zubek, 1998) and in their utilization of other resources (Holohan & Moos, 1991; Kobasa & Puccetti, 1983).
Social support is defined here as perceived satisfaction with close supporters’ efforts to help (Samson, Sarason, Shearin, & Pierce, 1987). Cohen and Wills (1985) found that social support had a buffering effect if the available social resources were complimentary to the needs elicited by stressful demands, and support satisfaction may be a key avenue of judging the perception of support fit with demands (Samson, et al., 1987). Focusing on support fit, it can be seen that acute economic stressors often make specific identifiable demands that may be remedied by specific support solutions, whereas chronic conditions may lead to erosion of support and its potential to buffer stress (Lepore, Evans, & Schneider, 1991). In line with this reasoning, Holahan and Moos (1987) found that social resources moderated acute stress impact through their association with active coping strategies. These specific coping strategies may fit better with the exigencies created by acute conditions.
Poverty may be a particularly pressing issue for African American women because of the added burdens of racism. When looking at SES and its relation to psychological distress, it is important to recognize that SES and ethnicity are often confounded. African American women are disproportionately at a greater risk of being in chronic poverty (Belle, 1990; McLoyd, 1990). In addition, effects of chronic poverty may have a differential impact on women of color (Ulbrich, Warheit, & Zimmerman 1989), because racism creates further obstacles to escaping chronic poverty by limiting access to education, employment and the attainment of goods and services (Halpern, 1990; McLoyd, 1990). However, it is also mistaken to view ethnicity as merely a burden. African Americans have learned ways to survive racism and poverty through extended family networks, a strong church, and personal toughness (Dressier, 1985; Taylor & Roberts, 1995). Therefore, it is particularly important to examine how mastery and social support might impact African American women who are facing acute and chronic economic hardship.
Conservation of Resources: Why Material Loss Is Important Conservation of Resources (COR) theory (Hobfoll, 1988, 1989, 1998) may be a helpful framework for understanding the interplay between chronic conditions of resource lack, and particular loss events, thereby allowing a mechanism for the unpacking of economic hardship. According to COR theory, chronic loss conditions, such as exist in the case of poverty, will impact distress by two routes. First, they will have a direct negative impact due to the experience of chronic resource lack (McLoyd & Wilson, 1992). For example, unemployment itself will lower self-esteem and a sense of purpose, which will lead to feelings of psychological distress. Second, chronic conditions of lacking resources will create fertile territory for further acute material resource losses (Kessler & Cleary, 1980). This occurs because major resources act both to protect minor resources and because once major losses occur, they diminish resource reservoirs that would have been potentially available to serve ongoing coping efforts (Kaniasty, Norris, & Murell,1990; Kaniasty & Norris, 1993). For example, having medical insurance acts to protect other resources. Once insurance is lost, even routine health problems can become economically and psychologically devastating resulting in a myriad of ancillary resource losses.
COR theory further suggests that resource loss is the most critical axis of the stress experience (Hobfoll & Lilly, 1993). This means that even negative conditions, if stable, will not be as stressful as the particular losses that people sustain on a daily basis. This is not to say that chronic poverty is not stressful, but that its stressfulness occurs through the process of resource losses that occur in its wake. Acute resource losses (e.g., problem with daycare, not being able to fix one’s washing machine), in turn, should be more directly related to the experience of psychological stress. Finally, returning to our earlier argument, those personal and social resources (e.g. mastery and social support) that are left in tact given conditions of poverty will have more of a moderating influence on acute resource loss than chronic poverty status.
In order to examine the differential impact of acute and chronic economic stress and how these stressors are influenced by personal and social resources, we studied a group of African American and European American inner-city women. Women visiting low-income health clinics reported their experience of economic stress, sense of mastery, perceived social support, and depressive mood. We chose depressive mood as an outcome variable because it has been found to be related to functioning in a number of key life realms and is indicative of a state experienced as painful by individuals, even if it is not the same entity as clinical depression (Gotlib, Lewinsohn, & Seeley, 1995). In addition, it has been found to be especially high among low-income women (Belle, 1990; Hobfoll et al., 1995).
A number of hypotheses were explored.
(1) Women who experience chronic economic stress (lack) and acute material resource loss will report more symptoms of depressed mood than women who experience less chronic economic stress and material loss.
(2) Based on COR theory, we predicted that acute resource loss will be more distressing than chronic economic lack. That is, although chronically impoverished conditions are stressful, the losses created will be more distressing.
(3) Mastery and social support will be more beneficial in offsetting the negative consequences of acute resource loss than chronic economic lack because acute loss is more likely to create identifiable demands against which resources can be mobilized. Hence, mastery and social support will show stress buffering effects only for material loss, not chronic lack (i.e., low SES).
(4) Although we had no specific hypothesis, the scant prior literature indicates a need to explore the differential impact of chronic and acute economic stress and the moderating effects of personal and social resources for African American and European American women.
Participants (n = 1241) were between 16 and 29 years of age (mean = 21.28, SD = 3.30). Forty-five 1o (n = 599) were European American and 55% were African American (n = 642). All were single, and free of major medical illnesses, and at no more than 20 weeks’ gestation. We oversampled pregnant women because single parenthood is a major life stressor that can exacerbate poverty’s influence (34.71o were pregnant).
Approximately 60% reported at least one or more children. More than half (57%) of the sample reported annual incomes below $10,000, 20%o between $10,000 and $15,000, 12% reported incomes between $15,000 and $25,000. An eighth-grade education was reported for 1.6%, 29.3% reported some high school, 31.7%o reported graduating high school, 32.8% had some college or technical school training (includes all types of after high-school education), and 4.4% reported graduating college. This is consistent with findings that inner-city women, although obtaining higher levels of education, are still underemployed. Jackson (1993), for example, noted in one inner-city sample that although 91% graduated from high school and 59% had education beyond high school, it did not translate to economic success, all were below the poverty line.
We compared African and European Americans on all study variables. Using t tests we found African Americans to be significantly higher on economic loss, lower on income and education, less likely to be employed, having more children, and having less education than European Americans (p < .001).
It is also notable that there were no ethnic differences in reports of depressive mood, mastery, or social support, and the difference for material loss, while significant, was negligible.
Instruments included a demographic questionnaire, a material resource loss assessment scale, measures of mastery, social support, and depressive mood.
The demographic questionnaire included questions about age, ethnicity (white = l, black = 2), marital status, educational level, annual income, employment, and number of children. Women were also interviewed about their sexual behavior which is not addressed in the current report.
Chronic Economic Stress. In our analyses, SES was operationalized as annual income. Various combinations of educational attainment, occupational status, and annual income were investigated in order to produce the best measure of SES. However, preliminary analysis indicated that neither level of education nor occupational status added to or refined the measure. Therefore, annual income was the only indicator of SES used in these analyses. Annual income reflected income for their household.
Acute Economic Stress. Acute economic stress, operationalized in terms of material loss, was assessed using a subscale of the Conservation of Resources Evaluation (COR Evaluation; Hobfoll & Lilly, 1993), which examines the extent of material resource loss experienced within a three month period.
It included a list of 23 key material resources that were established through a group nomination process (e.g., adequate food, adequate clothing, money for transportation, and providing children’s essentials) (Hobfoll, Lilly, & Jackson, 1991). Participants rated whether they had experienced loss or a threat of loss in the past 3 months (1 = no loss or threat of loss, 2 = some loss, 3 = a great deal of loss) for each material resource indicated.
The scale proved to be a reliable tool (a = .88, whites; a = .88, blacks).
Mastery. The seven-item Pearlin and Schooler (1978) mastery scale assesses the extent individuals felt that they had a sense of control over obtaining their goals (e.g., “What happens to me in the future mostly depends on me,” and “I can do just about anything I set my mind to do”). Participants rated items from 1 to 4 (strongly agree to strongly disagree). The scale has been shown to have adequate reliability and validity; internal consistency was .73 for whites and .67 for blacks.
Social Support. The Social Support Questionnaire (SSQ-6) has been proven to be a reliable and valid measure of intimate support (Samson et al., 1987). The six items assess individuals’ number of close supporters and their satisfaction with the support they received (e.g. “How many people can you count on to distract you from your worries when you feel under stress? How satisfied are you with that support?” and “How many people accept you totally including both your worst and best points? How satisfied are you with that support?”). We only used the satisfaction score, as satisfaction with support has been found to be a critical determinant that support offered fit respondents’ needs (Cohen & Wills, 1985; Samson et al., 1987). Participants rated their support satisfaction on a 3-point scale (1 = “seldom,” 2 = “sometimes,” and 3 = “always”) (a = .81 for whites, a = .79 for blacks).
Depressive Mood. We assessed depressive mood using the short form of the Profile of Mood States (POMS) depression scale. The POMS short form depression scale is a reliable measure with proven validity and lends itself to large-scale administration (Malouff, Schutte, & Ramerth,1985). Participants rated their feelings of depressed mood on a list of eight adjectives (e.g., “unhappy,” “worthless,” and “hopeless”). For the present study, participants were asked to indicate their feelings for the past week, rated on a scale from 0 to 4 (“not at all,” “a little,” “moderately,” “quite a bit,” “extremely”)
(a = .93 for whites, a = .91 for blacks). Although depressed mood is not an indicator of clinical depression, it is considered to be a meaningful measure of emotional distress and functioning (Gotlib et al., 1995).
Women were at two community clinics serving low-income populations and referred to the study team. A female interviewer explained the nature of the study and offered women $15 for participating in interviews. They were assured that their participation was voluntary and would not impact their medical care. Women were also informed that they might be asked to participate in a health intervention, however, the current study only covers initial interviews prior to any assignment to other studies. Greater than 80% of women approached agreed to participate and provided informed consent. Study inclusion criteria were being single and not cohabitating, free of serious medical problems that might require intensive medical attention (e.g., heart disease, type-1 diabetes, kidney failure), and being 16 to 29 years of age. Minors were allowed to participate with their assent and their guardians’ informed consent. We excluded cohabitating women because we have found them to be more similar to married than single women and our focus was on single women (Gallagher, Hobfoll, Ritter, & Lavin, 1997).
Interviewers were trained in multicultural sensitivity by an advanced counselor educator and an advanced health psychologist. Interviewers were trained in (1) awareness of cultural issues pertaining to the subject matter, (2) awareness of beliefs that might be held about research by different ethnic groups (e.g., “researchers come in to exploit our community”), and (3) openness to participants’ responses, and (4) they worked with a mixed ethnic group of supervisors and coworkers so they could share ideas, cultures, and practices throughout the project. Training utilized role-play and videotape feedback and supervision was conducted weekly throughout the project.
Interviewers (all women) followed a written interview protocol of questionnaires.
However, they were trained to ask probing questions and to prompt responses when problems or inconsistencies arose. For example, a woman might respond that she was not depressed, but then spontaneously report feeling sadness or respond to two questions in a directly contradictory fashion. In such instances, interviewers were trained to be nondirective but to ask women to clarify their meaning and explain their responses. Women were also prompted where they seemed to hesitate due to language and terms that they might not have known. Care was taken not to prompt a certain response and women were assured that their honest response was appreciated. For example, interviewers were trained to encourage and verbally reward (e.g., “thank you, that helps me understand what you mean”) women’s responses, independent of the content of the response. This style, characterized by (a) nonjudgmental listening, (b) avoiding argumentation, and (c) rolling with resistance, has been noted as an aspect of a motivational technique (we used here only the information gathering, not the behavioral change aspects of the technique) by others and women respond positively to it (Miller & Rollnick, 1991). It is especially important because many women in this population have had an antagonistic relationship with interviewers representing hospitals and social service agencies (e.g., caseworkers, intake workers).
Means, standard deviations, and percentages for study variables are presented in Table I and zero-order correlations are presented in Table II. To understand the circumstances and characteristics of the sample it is helpful to look more closely at this descriptive information.
The scores for yearly income indicate that the sample consisted of relatively poor women. Approximately 75% of the women were below the poverty line (Department of Health and Human Services, 1998). Women scored across a wide range on material loss indicating that some women experienced no loss and others experienced numerous loss events. On average women’s scores suggested that they suffered as many as four loss events at high-impact or numerous loss events of more moderate impact. It should be recalled that to experience any of these material losses indicates rather severe economic compromise (e.g., adequate food, adequate clothing). The correlation indicates a significant positive relationship between income status and material loss as expected. However, the magnitude of these correlations (.12 to .25) also suggests that women were not translating poverty as indicating a constant threat of loss but, rather, that material loss and threat of loss only sometimes occurred.
[IMAGE TABLE] Captioned as: Table I. Means, Standard Deviations, and
[IMAGE TABLE] Captioned as: Table II.
A wide range of scores was reported for both mastery and satisfaction with social support. This indicates that women varied from feeling masterful and well supported to lacking in mastery and unsupported. Scores on mastery indicated that in general women reported feeling mid to high levels of mastery. Similarly, women reported feeling mid to high levels of satisfaction with social support. The correlations between these two variables suggest that those who are higher in mastery are more likely to be satisfied with their social support. The range of scores also means that poverty does not necessarily reduce sense of mastery and social support to low levels and that fairly high levels of these resources are generally sustained.
Women scored across the full range on depressive mood. Such substantial variability suggests that some women had intense feelings of psychological distress, while others had none. In general, women reported slight to moderate feelings of depressive mood, suggesting that most women were adjusting reasonably to their circumstances.
We considered potential control variables including age, education, number of children, and employment status. Preliminary analysis revealed ethnic differences in employment and education, suggesting that these should be included as control variables. We also considered other potential control variables (e.g., number of children), but because they were not significantly related to depressive mood, they were not used for further analyses (Kenny, 1988). Pregnancy and ethnicity were also retained as variables of specific interest. In fact, preliminary analysis suggested major differences between African Americans and European Americans that led us to present these subgroups separately in analysis.
We first examined zero-order relationships (see Table II). Yearly income was related to significantly lower material loss, greater mastery, and greater social support among European Americans. Among African Americans income was also related to significantly lower material loss. However, income was not significantly related to either mastery or social support among African Americans, which was contrary to expectations. Yearly income was not significantly related to depressive mood for African Americans. However, income was significantly related to lower depressive mood for European Americans. In contrast, material resource loss was significantly positively correlated with greater depressed mood for both African and European Americans as hypothesized. As predicted, mastery and social support were significantly negatively correlated with depressed mood for both African and European Americans.
We employed hierarchical regression analyses to determine the relationship between the potentially overlapping variables of interest and the outcome variable and to explore more closely our hypotheses. Variables were centered (including depressive mood) to avoid problems with multicollinearity (Cronbach, 1987). Variables were consistently entered in blocks in the following order: pregnancy, employment, and education on the first step, stressors (i.e., income and material loss) on the second step, resources (i.e., mastery and social support) on the third step, and the interactions of the two resources (i.e., mastery and social support) and the two stress variables (i.e., income and material loss) on the last step.
African Americans. We first present the regression analysis for African Americans (see Table III). On the first regression step, pregnancy, education, and employment were not significantly related to depressive mood. When income and material loss were entered next, only the contribution of greater material loss was significant. Greater loss was related to greater depressive mood, whereas income had almost no relationship to depressive mood, as was predicted. In the third regression step, both mastery and social support significantly added to the explained variance, both in the expected negative direction.
Finally, in the last regression step, only the interaction of social support and material stress further significantly added to the model. No stress buffering effect, over and above the main effect was noted for mastery.
Also, as predicted, no stress buffering effects were noted for resources with income (p > .50; results available on request).3
[IMAGE TABLE] Captioned as: Table III. F
In order to understand the nature of the interaction, we mapped the regression lines for 1 SD above and below the mean on social support. As may be noted in Fig. 1, greater loss was related to greater depressive mood mainly for women lacking social support. As was predicted, women with high social support were hardly impacted by material loss, whereas women who had lower social support were severely impacted by increasing material losses. This interaction reflects that social support had a stress buffering effect on material loss among African American women.
European Americans. Next, we present the regression results for European American women (see Table IV). On the first regression step we found greater educational level and being employed to be significantly related to lower depressive mood. On the second regression step, only material loss significantly added to the predictive model, over and above the prior demographic variables, as we had predicted. Income was virtually unrelated to depressive mood. In the third regression step, we found greater mastery and social support to be significantly related to lower depressive mood, over and above the variability accounted for by the prior 2 regression steps.
In the final regression step, only the interaction of mastery and material loss further significantly added to the model. Social support did not significantly interact with material loss. Due to persistent problems with multicollinearity, despite centering, the interaction of income x support interaction could not be successfully calculated. However, its zero-order correlation with depressive mood approached 0, indicating that it could not successfully add to the predictive equation. In addition, income did not significantly interact with mastery (p > .15, results available on request).
In order to understand the nature of the significant interaction, we mapped the interaction of mastery and material loss on depressive mood in Fig. 2 for 1 SD on mastery. As indicated in Fig. 2, both women high and women low in mastery were negatively impacted by greater material loss. However, women high in mastery were only slightly negatively impacted by increasing material loss, whereas women low in mastery wre substantially negatively affected by increasing material loss in their lives. This interaction supports a stress buffering effect for mastery on material loss among European American women.
Our results generally support our hypotheses, but there were some interesting and notable exceptions. As predicted in Hypothesis l, material loss was related to greater depressive mood for both African American and European American women. Further, as predicted by the second hypothesis, the impact of economic stress worked almost exclusively through material loss, rather than the chronic state of poverty. Indeed, zero-order correlations suggested that for African American women income was unrelated to depressive mood, contrary to our first hypothesis. Mastery and social support were found to be associated with less depressive mood for both African Americans and European American women. As predicted in Hypothesis 3, stress buffering effects of resources on depressive mood were found only for material loss, not for chronic conditions of poverty as represented by lower income.
[IMAGE GRAPH] Captioned as: Fig. L
Major ethnic differences were noted, even after controlling for educational and employment differences. Among African Americans, income was almost unrelated to any of its expected associates. It was not related to depressive mood, social support, or mastery. This suggests that African Americans’ resources and adjustment may be more detached from other aspects of their life experience, which would be one sign of a kind of adjustment to chronic conditions of poverty. Such an interpretation is supported by the finding of other research indicating that African Americans are more highly represented in the lower income status group, but do not have increased depressed mood (Bruce et al., 1991; Ulbrich et al., 1989).
African Americans also experienced a stress-buffering effect of social support, with this resource having increased effect as material loss increased.
This suggests that, for African Americans social support may play an increasingly important role in coping with more intense stress conditions. This finding would be consistent with historical trends in the African American community that emphasize the critical strengths to be found in family, close friends, and the church (Asante, 1987; Caldwell, 1997).
[IMAGE TABLE] Captioned as: Table IV. Pv
For European Americans, in contrast, mastery was a greater buffer in times of high material loss. Rather than social support playing a larger role when stress increased, whites relied more on their internal sense of mastery.
This finding would be consistent with the cultural tendency for European Americans to focus on self-reliance and personal initiative, rather than collective involvement in coping efforts (Baumeister, 1987; Sampson, 1988;
Triandis, 1995). Individualism heralds personal efficacy as a hallmark of strength of character, and it is consistent with this cultural imperative that this would hold more for whites than blacks (Hobfoll, 1998).
[IMAGE GRAPH] Captioned as: Fig. 2. 7
One must be careful not to exaggerate, however, the importance of interactions alone. Main effects were found for both mastery and social support for both whites and blacks, suggesting that each of these resources are important ingredients in the process of adjustment. For both groups, greater mastery and social support limited depressive mood and did so under all stress levels. However, it is still instructive to consider that the interactions mean that there are differences in the resources that people come to rely on especially when stressful demands might otherwise become overwhelming.
The large sample size, also supports the stability of these findings, as at this point, few changes would be found in the results by adding participants.
For smaller samples that are typically studied, increased sample size often wipes out significant interactions (Kazdin, 1992).
In addition, the minimal differences observed between African and European Americans on mastery and social support suggest that beyond the effects of low income status, African Americans are able to retain personal and social resources. It appears that African Americans are able to sustain mastery and social support in the face of societal obstacles which suggests that other aspects of African American culture, family life, and community may have a protective influence (Cross, 1991; Dressler, 1985; Taylor & Roberts, 1995).
Pregnant women were not found to be more depressed than nonpregnant women.
The literature on depression and pregnancy has focused on the postpartum period (for literature review, see O’Hara & Zekoski, 1988; O’Hara, 1995), whereas the current study pays attention to the pregnancy period, which one would expect to be challenging for single, low-income women. Our findings suggest, however, that like nonpregnant women, those who are pregnant benefit from the resources of mastery and social support. Further, to the extent that their pregnancy produces greater economic losses, they will be at increased risk for depressive mood (see Gotlib et al., 1989; Hobfoll et al., 1995).
We failed to find a stress buffering effect of mastery or social support on income, contrary to the recent findings of Lachman and Weaver (1998).
Unlike the current study, their sample varied in income from below $10,000 to above $50,000. Hence, our results should not be interpreted as meaning that resources do not interact with income at all levels. Rather, at reduced income levels, there is no further stress buffering impact on income per se. Our sample did include women who varied on income within this low range (i.e., although a majority of women were in the lowest income range, 342 women had an income in the second lowest range of $10,000-$15,000 and 135 women had an income in the $15,000-$25,000 range), but differences might only have emerged had still higher levels of income been represented.
Moreover, Lachman and Weaver (1998) did not consider material loss, our more
Unpacked stress indicator, in their study. Had they considered the more everyday experience of poverty, they might also have found this to be the
Principle vehicle through which poverty exacts its toll. Further, even if income is still important as a mental health indicator, it is significant that further, rather substantive, effects are revealed through examining
Material loss. Otherwise, one might conclude that below a certain level of Economic challenge there are no further effects. This study has attempted to make a contribution to our understanding of low income status, however, it does have certain limitations. Efforts were made to have a diverse sample that allows for cultural generalizability.
However, only single women were studied and women of other ethnic groups were not common enough in the study city to allow their inclusion, which limits generalizability to other populations. Other limitations include the use of self report data which may inflate the level of some associations due to common style-related variance. Further, although a certain direction of causality was implied, it is recognized that there is the likelihood of bidirectionality and feedback loops that could frame the results in a different light that are not revealed by the study’s cross-sectional design. Those who are more depressed may have more material loss due to their inability to acquire successfully adequate income and may therefore perceive themselves as less masterful and having less social support. Finally, the income variable was the sole indicator of chronic economic lack. Although education and employment did not add to the predictive model, other indicators of SES, such as lifestyle, homelessness, living conditions, work conditions, and neighborhood conditions might be chronic economic factors that would have impacted depressive mood.
The study also is supported by some strengths compared to other investigations in this domain. Few studies have ethnic samples that are as directly comparable as those we studied (i.e., sampled from same clinics with same criteria) or as large, which aids confidence in the findings. Second, previously well-validated measures were reliable for this sample both among European and African Americans, which is a concern that must be addressed when assessing low-income populations and African Americans due to the fact that measures are not typically validated on such populations.
Finally, through the use of financial incentives and gaining a favorable reputation in the community we were able to obtain a high percentage of interviews from women who were approached (Sullivan, Rumptz, Campbell, Eby, & Davidson, 1996).
Our findings also have meaningful implications for prevention. Although prevention interventionists will sometimes be able to impact larger policy issues, they will more commonly need to rely on mesosocial and microsocial interventions. In particular, prevention interventions may need to target the level where people’s resources operate (Kelly, 1988). Our results indicate the importance of interventions that might minimize everyday loss events.
This could be done through pooling resources at public agencies (e.g., making emergency transportation available), crisis response teams that can address material problems on an as-needed basis, and brief emergency relief funds through churches and community centers. For many of these women, relatively simple problems such as having a washing machine break down, often spiraled into major crises. If one hallmark of prevention is “think globally, act locally,” the current study suggests that a second hallmark might be “think macro, act micro” on the economic level as well.
A second direction for prevention research would include interventions that support mastery enhancement and social support building. Surprisingly few interventions have been directed at building these resources, despite the wealth of studies that have focused on their value (Gottlieb,1988). When prevention studies have attempted to alter mastery and social support, they have been successful (Freedy & Hobfoll, 1994), but there are few such published reports. It is also notable that when attempting to alter mastery and social support, Freedy and Hobfoll (1994) found that intervention designed to address both in tandem was more successful than attempts to raise only one. This suggests, as posited by COR theory (Hobfoll, 1998), that these resources are interrelated.
Future research should include finding ways to examine potential feedback loops that occur through the use of prospective designs. However, the variables under study do not easily lend themselves to true prospective design (Cook & Campbell, 1979; Kazdin, 1992). Specifically, finding a start point is difficult due to the chronicity of poverty. The same concerns hold for the influences of the resources of mastery and social support, as one can artificially note a starting point, but one is always in the midst of transactional cycles (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). It is also important to contextualize the study of poverty by employing more stressor variables that may have a proximal effect, thereby producing a more ecologically valid understanding of low income status. For example, looking at personal stress and relationship variables may help to illuminate further some of the processes that related to the detrimental nature of low-income status.
Prevention research should also examine whether attempts to address economic crisis and enhance personal and social resources are indeed beneficial, because it is also possible that the chronicity of poverty will overcome intervention efforts because as one problem is countered, many others might emerge, overwhelming intervention gains. The current study may provide nevertheless some contribution in revealing the relationship among material losses, resources, and psychological stress among an understudied population.
‘This research was made possible through the support of the NIMH Office of AIDS Research. Grant RO1 MH45669, and the Applied Psychology Center, which was founded through the support of the Ohio Board of Regents.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Applied Psychology Center, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, 44242. e-mail: shobfollC‘kent.edu.
‘Due to problems with multicollinearity pertaining to the interaction terms containing income when all interaction terms were entered on the same step or simultaneous steps, we entered the interaction terms for income and for material loss in separate models. There was no indication of significant interactions with income in these separate models. This left open the possibility that the interactions were masked by technical problems with regression.
However, this was not a tenable interpretation because the zero-order correlations of the interaction terms concerning income (i.e., income x mastery, income x social support) did not support the possibility of stress buffering effects (i.e., they were not related to depressive mood in a manner that could translate to a stress buffering effect even before controlling for their main effects) (Cronbach, 1987).
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