About 20% of Americans have experienced depressive symptoms in their lives. Prior research has shown one’s neighborhood of residence is an important determinant of one’s mental health. However, major limitations in existing research are limited research on older adults, limited studies including both objective and subjective neighborhood stressors, and limited studies including social support as a possible moderator. The purpose of this dissertation was to increase knowledge about the relationships between neighborhood stressors and depressive symptoms among older adults.
Applying social disorganization theory and stress process theory, this study investigated the associations between four neighborhood stressors (three objective indicators of neighborhood disadvantage – neighborhood poverty, racial and ethnic composition, residential instability – and one subjective characteristic – perceived neighborhood disorder) and a count of depressive symptoms. This study also tested whether social support (from spouse, child, relatives, and friends) moderated the effects of the neighborhood stressors on depressive symptoms.
This dissertation was based on secondary analysis of merged data from the Health and Retirement Study 2010, RAND HRS, U.S. Census 2010, and HRS restricted-use data. The final sample (N = 1,468) were all urban-dwelling; age 50 or older; married or partnered; having at least one child, relative, and friend. This study applied structural equation modeling with Full Information Maximum Likelihood estimation.
Findings of this dissertation did not support the neighborhood effects hypotheses. Contrary to previous studies, this study found higher neighborhood poverty was associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms. No other neighborhood stressors were associated with depressive symptoms. Stress buffering effects of social support were not significant, for any neighborhood stressor. Not as a moderator but as a main effect, lower social support was significantly related to higher depressive symptoms. Lower income, female, lower education, and poorer health were also related to higher depressive symptoms.
This dissertation contributes to social work practice by addressing older adults’ depressive symptomatology. Findings identified vulnerable older adults to target for interventions, based on individual characteristics. Focusing on social support should be a vital component of interventions. Social workers can help older adults to maintain and strengthen their social support, with beneficial effects for their depressive symptomatology.