Reflecting The Rapid Increase Sociology Essay

Abstract

Reflecting the rapid increase in the aged population, the question of what constitutes aging well and how to age well has been gaining attention. There has not yet been a definite answer; part of the reason being that old age is relatively young, and there is still much room to be researched. This is especially true for South Korea, where the life span of man has increased with extraordinary rapidity, due to its sudden industrialization. No consensus on many facets of aging ad aging well has been reached, and this could be extremely detrimental to one's aging well.

The concept of successful aging is one of the most influential concept that emerged in the process of establishing a cogent theory, and it is noteworthy that it includes a social component: sustained engagement in social and productive activities, which this study translates to social participation.

While there are a number of other terms that are used interchangeably in other studies, social participation as a concept could be understood to include most activities that act to relieve social exclusion, and thus allows to measure involvement in the broadest sense. This is the reason this study has chosen this concept in order to examine the young elderly's involvement with life and how it affects their self-esteem. The activities chosen specifically under the name of social participation for this study are public association groups, leisure activities, religious ritual, ascriptive association groups, work, volunteering and care-giving. The terms for the former four activities were adopted from Kim & Lee's study.

This study examined the social participation status of Korean young elderly men and women, and how it affects self-esteem of Korean young elderly men and women.

The data for this study was obtained through face-to-face interviews using a structured questionnaire, and consists of 1713 participants, age ranging from 50 to 69, of which 836 were male and 877 were female.

Descriptive statistics, correlation analysis, chi-square tests and t-test, and two-step hierarchical regression analyses were conducted, separate by gender. SAS 9.1 program was used.

The result are as follows.

Firstly, as for male subjects, the activity with most participation was work, followed by ascriptive association activities, leisure activities, volunteering activities, religious activities, public association activities, and care-giving activities, in this order. Female subjects, too, participated in work the most, and then the other activities followed in the order of leisure activities, ascriptive association activities, religious activities, volunteering activities, public association activities, and care-giving activities. There were significant gender differences in participation in public association activities, religious activities, ascriptive association activities, work, and care-giving activities. More male than female participated in public association activities, work, ascriptive association activities, and the rest, the opposite.

Secondly, while male and female participants shared self-rated living status and perceived health variables from sociodemographic variables as significant factors associated with self-esteem, social participation variables that proved to be significant were different for each gender. For male participants, the strongest predictor was leisure activities, followed by volunteering activities, ascriptive association activities, and religious activities. For female participants, the strongest predictor was leisure activities, followed by volunteering activities and care-giving activities.

Resultantly, the way Korean young elderly is engaged with life and how it affects their self-esteem was made clear. Most of the results echoed that of relevent previous studies.

This study has its limitation in which that social participation variables were chosen without clear criteria and appropriate categorization, regardless of the fact that the diversity of the social participation variables are, at the same time, the strength of this study.

Further researches are required to investigate the properties of the activities examined that caused some activities to be more significant predictors of self-esteem than the others.

I. INTRODUCTION

According to statistics, more than 7.2% of Koreans have aged over 65 in year 2000, firmly establishing Korea as an aging society (National Statistical Office, 2008). At this rate, it is predicted that Koreans over the age of 65 will make up more than 14.9% of population by the year of 2018, which would mark the beginning of an aged society. As these figures indicate, Korea is now facing a rapidly aging population, adding even more importance to understanding how people age in Korea and how they could age well.

Unfortunately, to date, research has yet to provide a definite answer as to what constitutes aging well and how to age well. While this kind of controversy and uncertainty is bound to exist in the area of social science, it cannot be denied that one reason could be attributed to the fact that old age, in general, is relatively young (Baltes & Smith, 1999), and there just has not been sufficient time for enough research. This is especially true for South Korea.

Having undergone industrialization at an unprecedented rate in 1960s and 1970s, and having experienced a rapid increase in average life span, Korea as a country has no learned example to offer its elderly and soon-to-be elderly as to how to live the prolonged old age that is intensifying diversity (Kim et al., 2007). The conventional image of the elderly is neither accurate nor dependable anymore, and consequently, there is no consensus on many facets of aging and aging well that one can rely upon. Combined with the fact that later life itself engenders an accumulation of losses, and is referred as a role-less role (Rosow, 1973) for many people experience significant losses as they age, this absence of guideline could be considered extremely detrimental to one's aging well.

There have been, of course, attempts to fill in this blank, by proposing images of the ideal later life and the ideal course of aging that could serve as an exemplary model for the elderly. Numerous ideas as to what roles one should assign themselves to and what conditions are to be met were discussed. The concept of successful aging emerged in the process, with no single universally accepted definition, but all the same, convenient. Rowe and Kahn's (1998) version of its conceptualization was especially influential, and nowadays, the term "successful aging" is used primarily in reference to theirs: avoidance of disease and disablity, maintenance of high physical and cognitive function, and sustained engagement in social and productive activities. The emphasis on being involved is noteworthy; the other two components, as well, make repeated appearances in other variations of successful aging model, but it is the only social component of the three. This is where the term "social participation" enters the picture.

Social participation, again, is a tricky term, without a precise agreement on the definition. Terms such as social activity, social engagement, productive activity, civic engagement and community involvement are considered interchangeable with it, while they do differ in specific meanings. It is generally left to the researcher's discretion which term to employ and how to define it. As social participation could be roughly understood to include most activities that act to relieve social exclusion (Ju, 2010), and thus allows to measure involvement in the widest sense, this study has chosen this concept in order to examine the young elderly's involvement with life and how it affects their self-esteem, self-esteem being the instrument measuring how they are dealing with later life.

This is hardly a new attempt; social participation has been a key component of many conceptual models of successful aging, and there is a substantial amount of research focused on its concept (Levasseur, Richard, Gauvin & Raymond, 2010). It has also been proven that social participation is positively related with the elderly's general well-being, in other words, the evidence of their having aged well, measured by various indicators such as health, life-satisfaction, and happiness. In the aging literature, social participation is fast becoming an alternative of sorts for the elderly to previous activities and roles they dedicated themselves to. However, it differs depending on the study just what activities are to be defined as social participation. According to an inventory and content analysis paper by Levasseur et al. (2010), the definitions of social participation in older adults range from social interaction with persons other than a spouse; participation in social and productive activity that represents an intrinsic economic value such as paid employment, volunteer work, or gardening; to civic and social participation within organizations as well as formal and informal social networks.

As indicated by the wide spectrum of the definition, socal participation is a concept with many facets, of which each could produce a plethora of studies on its own, and did, as evidenced by most of the previouis researches on social participation. The matter of convenience and clarity of the research purpose is also the reason previous studies tended to focus on one or two facets of the concept, narrowing down the activities that could be included and studied as social participation. For instance, the elderly's participation in leisure activities, volunteer activities, religious activities, financial activities and exercise activities has been studied in depth (Ju, 2010), but most of the time, only respectively so. Considering most elderly participate in these activities simultaneously in real life, the elderly's engagement in each activity is only a part of their social participation, and other activities should be taken into concern as well in order to know the full extent and the content of their participation. Additionally, activities that were analyzed in each of the previous studies were largely homogenous, and most of the studies tended to focus on one main activity instead of analyzing various kinds of activity at once.

While it would be going too far to consider the above as limitations, it seems crucial to capture the full spectrum and significance of social participation as a concept in order to examine the elderly's engagement with life as whole. This warrants sampling dissimilar kinds of activities, as the array of activities previously chosen for studies was typically limited within the narrowly defined concept of social participation. Accordingly, this paper defined social participation in a broader sense, including various activities that were not typically examined together.

With an effort to complement the previous studies, this paper will explore Korean young elderly's social participation status and how it affects their self-esteem.

Ⅱ. LITERATURE REVIEW

1. Elderly's Self-esteem

Rosenberg(1979) defines in his discussion self-esteem as "a positive or negative orientation toward an object", and self-concept, which is a term sometimes equated with self-esteem, as "the totality of the individual's thoughts and feelings having reference to himself as an object". A distinction between the two concept could be made in that, while "self-concept refers to the general idea we have of ourselves, self-esteem refers to particular measures about components of self-concept", such as the affective or emotional aspect of self (Huitt, 2009). It is also said that self-esteem is a dimension of self-concept along with identities and "deals with the evaluative and emotional dimensions of the self-concept", which is the reason self-concept is sometimes used interchangeably with self-esteem; most research on self-concept focus on this dimension (Gecas, 1982). Self-esteem, or self-concept, has been widely studied in depth, in motivational terms and as an independent variable (Gecas, 1982).

Maslow (1943) proposes "esteem needs" in his hierarchy of five needs, contending that most people in our society have a "need or desire for a stable, firmly based, (usually) high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self esteem, and for the esteem of others", also associating self-esteem with self-worth and self-evaluation. By his definition, "satisfaction of the self esteem need leads to feelings of self-confidence, worth, strength, capability and adequacy of being useful and necessary in the world".

Other studies' definitions also parallel the above definitions. Kim and Kim (1996) defined self-esteem as "an appraisal of self as worthwhile and valuable", and Son (1996), "a subjective assessment on self, a cognitive process and attitude of perceiving self's efficacy, importance and value, including resultant emotions".

Self-esteem "moderates the impact of daily events on mental and physical well-being", and subjects with "high self-esteem made more internal, stable, global attributions for positive events than for negative events". (Campbell et al., 1991)

Tennen and Herzberger (1987) found that individuals with low self-esteem, independent of depression status, tended to "make internal attributions for failure and external, unstable, and specific attributions for success", identifying "one's current level of self-esteem is a better predictor of one's attributional style than is current level of depression".

Positive self-esteem is seen to be associated with better recovery after severe diseases, mental well-being, happiness, adjustment, success, academic achievements and satisfaction. Conversely, "low self-esteem can be a causal factor in depression, anxiety, eating disorders, poor social functioning, school dropout and risk behavior". (Michal et al., 2004)

Self-esteem has been found to be the most powerful direct determinant of happiness (Furnham & Cheng, 2000), and the strongest predictor of spouse-less female elderly's life-satisfaction (Yun & Lee, 1997).

Self-esteem has been known to decline in old age (Robins & Trzesniewski, 2005). Some of the known reasons are changes in roles, relationships, physical functioning and socioeconomic status. However, as self-concept is a "...both a structure and a process, i.e. a dynamic structure that responds to situational stimuli", and could be modified even as adults, as they "develop new cognitive and intellectual capabilities and confront new social demands and processes" (Demo, 1992).

Previous studies elucidated relationships between elderly's self esteem and sociodemographic factors as follows. When analyzed by gender, men tended to have higher self-esteem than women (Seo & Kim, 2003; Jung, 2004), Being younger, higher education level, and better health meant higher self-esteem (Lee, 1999; Jeon, 2004; Park, 1995; Ahn, 2002; Byun, 2005; Ahn, 2002; Jung, 2004). Economic variables such as perceived financial status or income, too, were positively related with self-esteem (Kim & Han, 2001; Oh, 2003). Being religious, and having a spouse was also associated with self-esteem (Choi, 2003; Yu & Choi, 2003; Hong, 1999).

2. Social Participation

Activity theory, one of three major psychosocial theories on the human development in old age, asserts that aging adults will replace lost roles with compensatory activities in order to preserve their identity (Cavan, Burgess, Havinghurst, & Goldhammer, 1949 in Utz, MGS, Carr, Nesse, Wortman, & C, 2002). Social participation of the elderly, or the young elderly, is deemed as an ideal example of said compensatory activities. It is an important modifiable health determinant (Levasseur, M., Richard, L., Gauvin, L., & Raymond, E., 2010), and mortality (Berkman, 1995) as well as quality of life (Levasseur, Desrosiers, St-Cyr Tribble, 2008) is said to be associated with it.

Social participation as a term, is without a clear consensus on its definition. Many similar terms, such as social activity, social integration, civic participation, and productive activity, are considered interchangeable, while specific meanings certainly do differ, and reasons exist in which different terms are employed for different studies. Amongst the various terms, however, social participation is the term with the most diversity (Lee, 2007), and is inclusive of most of the nuances the other terms have to offer. For instance, Kim and Lee's (2000) definition of social activity which is "an activity that is performed with other people other than alone, focusing on social interaction", or Bass' (1996) definition of productive activities which includes "those that provide benefit to someone other than oneself and can be translated to some form of monetary equivalent" could both be covered with the concept of social participation, which includes "most activities that act to relieve social exclusion" (Ju, 2010).

Of course, it is of the each researcher's discretion how precisely to define social participation in a study. In one instance it is defined as "paid or unpaid work for a family business or farm, volunteer work and other social group participation" (Hsu, 2007), and in another, it is "social interaction with persons other than a spouse" and includes both formal and informal social roles such as meeting attendance and telephone contact (Utz et al., 2002). According to Bukov et al. (200), it is defined as "socially oriented sharing of individual resources", while Park et al. (1994) defined it as an activity that could fulfill economic and social needs respectively, or at the same time. Yun (2005) claimed it a generic term for every act that could maintain in touch with outside relationships, both physically and psychologically, while Lee (2009) is of opinion that it is similar to leisure activity, but a more inclusive activity with social, economic, and systematic characteristics.

Along with the definition, the exact activities that are considered as social participation and how they are categorized differs depending on the research context. There is Rose's (1967) classic categorization of expressive groups with goals external to the organization, and instrumental groups which serve socioemotional purposes for the members, that became a footing for Kim and Lee's (2008) categorization of religious ritual, leisure activities, public association activities and ascriptive association activities. Kim and Lee's categorization is noteworthy as it recognized the importance of ascriptive associations in Korea, which has no equivalent in the western world, and therefore, had been going largely unnoticed in the academia. For Bukov et al. (2002), it was categorized into collective participation, productive participation and political participation, and for Kim (2007), it was paid work, caregiving, and self-development. Housework, gardening, errands, paid work, and helping others (including volunteer work and provision of care for relatives) meant social participation to Klumb and Baltes (1999), and Jung and Lee (2009) added learning, working, and pastime as productive activities to Kim and Lee's (2008) religious ritual, leisure activities, public association activities and ascriptive association activities which were considered to be relational activities.

In this study, social participation is defined in its broadest sense: activities that act to relieve social exclusion. Kim and Lee's (2008) categorzation of social participation was adopted, and additionally, work, volunteering, and care-giving will be examined as well. The additional three activities are to supplement; they cover the facets of young elderly's life the chosen categorization does not, and have been tested in previous studies as forms of social participation with a leaning to productive activities.

3. Social Participation and the Elderly's Well-being

There are not many works that specifically regard the elderly's social participation and the effect it has on their self-esteem. This paper will resort to examining the effect social participation has on the elderly's general well-being instead.

The results are varying where the effect work has on the elderly's well-being is concerned. There exists a study in which getting employed had a positive effect on self esteem (Lee, Kang, Jung, Chae & Ji, 2008), and other papers theoretically supports the idea that many people obtains sense of control and fulfilment through being economically active (Heo, 2002 in Kwon & Kim, 2008), and that paid work fulfils basic needs and the sense of loss that accompanies role loss (Jeon, 2005). But then, there are works that proved work to be unrelated to the elderly's well-being (Yun & Han, 2004), and some studies assert that work itself is not detrimental or beneficial to one's well-being, and what matters is whether one is active at the level and in the form they would like to be (Herzog & House, 1991).

Positive results are prominent for volunteering. Kim and Han (2001) proved that even after controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, the self-esteem of those who participated in volunteering was still higher than that of those who did not. It is understood that being acknowledged by the community by passing on knowledge and skills to others contributes to enhancing one's self-esteem (Jung & Lee, 2005). Also, volunteering makes one feel useful to the society, and helps maintaining positive self-image (Lee, 2005).

Leisure activities are especially important for the elderly who have lost, or are losing their previous roles in work or as parents; through leisure activities, the elderly can express themselves and create their self-concept (Atchley 1993; Mannell 1993). Leisure is to be enjoyed voluntarily and freely, and meeting new people can also provide new roles for the elderly (Yun, 2005). Min, Jung and Seo (2001) has proven in their study that participation in active leisure activities enhanced self-esteem and reduced loneliness and depression.

Religion activities are still up for debate as many studies differ in their results. In Kim's 2006 work, religious elderly were proven to have higher self-esteem than the irreligious, and Kim and Park (2000) asserted that the elderly who participated in religious activities were leading healthier lives both physically and psychologically than those who did not. However, there were studies like Jung's (2004) and Jeon's (2004). The former has flat-out proven that religion and self-esteem had no association between, while the latter concluded that it is not the activity itself that is important, but maintaining the level of activity one led before. Nevertheless, it was also shown in the latter that religious activities had positive effects on mental health, while quitting the activities had negative effects.

Public association activities and ascriptive association activities, in Kim and Lee's (2008) work, have been proven to have positive effects on the elderly's subject well-being.

Ⅲ. Research Design and Methodology

1. Research Questions

In order to explore how the elderly is engaged with society, a variety of activities from different facets of life is needed. From this reason, this study employed a broader concept of social participation, and accordingly, examined activities that were with more variety than prior studies. The elderly's participation status in the activities, and how it affected the elderly's self-esteem was investigated. As gender is an important factor for both self-esteem and elderly's social participation status, all of the results were examined by gender.

The research questions are as follows:

[Research Question 1] How is the social participation status of Korean young elderly men and women?

[Research Question 2] How does social participation affect self-esteem of Korean young elderly men and women?

2) Social participation

The social participation considered in this study was the participation in public association groups, leisure activities, religious ritual, ascriptive association groups, work, volunteering and care-giving. The terms for the former four activities were adopted from Kim & Lee's (2008) study in which social participation of the elderly was classified into aforementioned four activities.

3) Self-esteem

Self-esteem is a term associated with self-worth and self-evaluation (Maslow, 1943), and refers to the affective or emotional component of self-concept (Huitt, 2009). A shortened five-item version of the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965) was used to assess the participants' self-esteem in this study. The items are as follows: "I feel that I have a number of good qualities", "I feel that I am a person of worth, at least on an equal plane with others", "I feel I do not have much to be proud of", "On the whole, I am satisfied with myself" and "At times I think I am no good at all". Items were scored on a 5-point Likert scale, and negative items were reverse-coded so that higher score indicated higher self-esteem. The calculated Cronbach's alpha coefficient of reliability was .78, indicating satisfactory internal consistency.

Ⅴ. Discussions

This study was conducted in order to examine Korean young elderly's social participation status and how it affects the participants' self-esteem. A fair amount of research has contributed to social participation and the elderly's self-esteem, as well as to the relationship between the two. As aging accompanies involuntary losses, of both role and social interaction, the self-esteem of the elderly is generally considered to be at risk. Social participation, in that vein, is a convenient path through which the elderly could gain access to both role and social interaction, in other words, engagement with life. Many studies have noted and proven how participating in social activities could help enhance the elderly's self-esteem. However, most previous studies left some room to be supplemented in that their concepts of social participation were rather narrowly defined, and consequently, resulted in limiting what could be considered and analyzed as social participation activities. In order to explore precisely how the elderly is engaged with society, a variety of activities from disparate facets of life is needed. From these reasons, this study employed a broader concept of social participation, and accordingly, examined activities that were with more variety than prior studies. The elderly's participation status in the activities, and how it affected the elderly's self-esteem was investigated. As gender is an important factor for both self-esteem and elderly's social participation status, all of the results were examined by gender.

Data with 1713 young elderly participants, age ranging from 50 to 69, was used for this study. Sample description and average self-esteem scores were examined for basic understanding of the sample. The current social participation status of Korean young elderly was made clear, and chi-square tests were employed to figure out the gender differences. The effect of participation in social participation activities on self-esteem was analyzed by a two-step hierarchical regression analysis, separate by gender.

The results were as follows.

Firstly, Korean young elderly's participation was well distributed over the seven social participation activities considered in this study. As for male subjects, the activity with most participation was work, followed by ascriptive association activities, leisure activities, volunteering activities, religious activities, public association activities, and care-giving activities, in this order. Female subjects, too, participated in work the most, and then the other activities followed in the order of leisure activities, ascriptive association activities, religious activities, volunteering activities, public association activities, and care-giving activities. There were significant gender differences in participation in public association activities, religious activities, ascriptive association activities, work, and care-giving activities. Echoing the results of relevant researches, more male than female participated in public association activities, work, ascriptive association activities, and the rest, the opposite.

Secondly, participation in some of the activities had significant effect on the young elderly's self-esteem, and there were gender differences as to what activities proved to be significant in relation to self-esteem. In male subjects' data, aside from self-rated living status and perceived health variables from sociodemographic variables, participation in four social participation activities proved to be significant. The strongest predictor was leisure activities, followed by volunteering activities, ascriptive association activities, and religious activities. The significant sociodemographic variables were the same with male subjects' data in female subjects' data, being self-rated living status and perceived health variables, and three social participation variables were shown to be significant. The strongest predictor was leisure activities, followed by volunteering activities and care-giving activities.

Based on these findings, it seems safe to assume that Korean young elderly men and women differ in their ways of being engaged in social participation activities, and in what they gain from them. The age range of the sample, which is 50 to 69, makes it natural that both men and women participate in work the most; they are not old enough to go into permanent retirement. In case of care-giving activity, since it was defined very narrowly compared to other activities for its nature, it is understandable that it is the least participated activity of the seven activities. Additionally, it must be considered as well that it is a gendered activity, which explains the significantly less participation of male participants. Other significant gender differences, which were shown in public association activities, religious activities, ascriptive association activities and work, could be understood as a repetition of prior studies' results. Men are known to participate in public association activities, ascriptive association activities and work more than women, while religious activities are the one activity that women participate in more. Overall, the social participation status of the young elderly men and women, corresponds with what was already known in the literature.

Also, the activities that proved to be significant related to the young elderly's self-esteem differed according to gender. While men and women shared two social participation activities, leisure activities and volunteering activities as the activities that were predictors to their self esteem, only men's self-esteem was significantly related with ascriptive association activities and religious activities, in contrast with women's care-giving activities. This could be considered to be in sync with their social participation status; ascriptive association activities and care-giving activities are gendered activities, while the religious activities remain unexplained. It is also not surprising that volunteering activities proved as a predictor; the literature consistently identified volunteering as a significant predictor to self-esteem, and asserted it to be the alternative for the roles that the elderly have, presumably, lost. As for the question that what properties of these social participation activities could be related with enhancing self-esteem, it could be assumed that leisure activities, ascriptive association activities, and religious activities all provide opportunities to be connected with people as well as means of recreation, while volunteering activities and care-giving activities could be understood as productive activities, and in nature, directly associated with self-esteem in the sense that being productive generally leads to approving oneself (Kim & Lee, 2008; Kart, 1990). It should also be noted that leisure activities held more significance than volunteering activity in both genders, raising doubt to the generally assumed superiority that productive activities have over other activities.

This study exhibits a severe limitation in that social participation variables were chosen without clear criteria and appropriate categorization. Still, regardless of this limitation, this study has its value in that it is one of the rare empirical studies that examined social participation activities that have not been considered together for a research. The young elderly's engagement with activities from different facets of life were examined, once again confirming the gendered aspect of social participation in the course. The effect of social participation on self-esteem was analyzed by respective activity and gender, and it could be concluded that the results were reflective of previous studies and theories. However, further researches are required to investigate the properties of the activities examined that caused some activities to be more significant predictors of self-esteem than the others.

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