Institutional Involvement and the Mental Health Effects of Perceived Neighborhood Disorder in Old Age: The Role of Personal and Divine Control
Milkie, Melissa A.
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Previous research has shown that perceptions of neighborhood disorder are related to increased levels of psychological distress. Neighborhood disorder may be especially salient for older adults because the transitions associated with aging heighten the salience of the neighborhood as an arena for social interaction. A stress-process perspective suggests that the effects of neighborhood disorder on mental health may be indirect, and mediated through harm in elders' self-concepts, but also that the structural arrangements in which individuals are embedded may protect elder's mental health by protecting the self. I add to this perspective by focusing on engagement in family and religious institutions as primary indications of enmeshment in the structural arrangements of society. Using a longitudinal study of older adults, I examine whether marriage prevents the mental health effects of perceived neighborhood disorder by protecting mastery, and whether attendance at religious services and prayer protect elders' mental health by preventing loss of a second type of perceived control, sense of divine control. Results show that marriage prevents the effects of neighborhood disorder on depression and anger by preventing a loss of mastery. Further, losses in mastery strengthen the effects of neighborhood disorder on mental health, but only for women and the less educated. Neighborhood disorder is also related to loss of sense of divine control, but only for elders with greater levels of education, and religious involvement helps prevent these effects. However, this moderation provides no mental health benefits, and change in sense of divine control does not alter the relationship between neighborhood disorder and mental health. A primary contribution of this dissertation is that it places the effects of perceived neighborhood disorder in a larger structural context by demonstrating that they are contingent on engagement in the social structures which pattern human behavior and sustain the structure of society.