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Understanding Racial and Ethnic Differences in Health in Late Life: A Research Agenda
Research Need 9: Characterize the distribution of social and psychological resources in different older populations and investigate whether their effects on health vary by race and ethnicity.
Research on such resources, particularly for groups other than whites and blacks, is presently quite limited, leaving it unclear whether or not there are important differences that could have consequences for health. Even in the unlikely circumstance that patterns of social support, religious involvement, and psychological coping styles are found to be similar across groups, it is still plausible that they would have different implications for promoting healthy behavior, deterring risky behavior, facilitating care, and ultimately improving health.
Social and psychological factors are not identical, though they are probably interdependent. Such factors as social support and the social environment of individuals may condition the health effects of psychological coping styles, and vice versa. The degree of interdependence may vary across ethnic groups.
Research should attend to the role of these processes over the life course. Social environments and coping styles evolve and adjust as people age, being modified by and modifying individual choices. For instance, one’s social network shrinks in old age, tending to focus increasingly on those who can satisfy emotional and physical needs (Mendes de Leon and Glass, 2004). The consequences of this change for health, and particularly how such dynamics play out for different racial and ethnic groups, is poorly charted.