The psychological impact of resource gains and losses in an ageing population from the perspective of conservation of resources theory : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Clinical Psychology at at Massey University, Palmerston North

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Massey University
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The aim of the current study was to examine a series of hypotheses and questions derived from Hobfoll’s (1988) conservation of resources theory (COR) using existing longitudinal data from 1,119 55-70 year-old participants of the Health, Work and Retirement Study parent study (Alpass, 2009). The years from mid-life through retirement into older adulthood are signified by change and adjustment. COR theory predicts these years are also a time of significant stress as personal and material resources are depleted. This main hypothesis of this study predicted that losses in valued resources over time would result in loss of psychological wellbeing over the same period. Additionally, other central COR principles were examined such as the potential role of resource gain in alleviating the impact of other resource losses, and the potential for resource losses or gains to spiral. Hobfoll’s suggestion that losses and gains increase respective vulnerabilities and opportunities for further losses and gains were also explored, as was his idea that resources correlate or travel together as a “caravan”. Analyses: Chi-square and logistic regression were used as the general strategy for testing all hypothesized main and interaction effects as well as for exploring research questions. Resources examined for the potential impact of changing levels on psychological wellbeing were economic standard of living, physical health, and social support. Results: Losses in economic standard of living were associated with clinically significant loss in psychological wellbeing, with large losses associated with increased odds of loss in psychological wellbeing at a rate over four times that of participants who did not experience such loss. Gains in economic standard of living were also associated with gains in psychological wellbeing, but to a lesser degree. Similarly, loss of social support over the same period was associated with loss of psychological wellbeing. However gains were not associated with gains in psychological wellbeing. Anomalously, no association was found for losses or gains of physical health on psychological wellbeing. In support of COR, there was evidence that losses impacted psychological wellbeing to a greater degree than sustained low levels of resource ownership, indicating resource loss may have greater impact than sustained “poverty”. Gains in physical health were also found to alleviate the impact of loss of other resources as predicted by COR. No support was found for predominance of loss or gain spirals. Resource ownership levels were far more likely to oscillate than to spiral up or down. Correlations of resources with each other were moderate, providing some evidence of Hobfoll’s resources traveling together. Significance: Results suggested provisional support for the central principles of COR theory linking loss and gain of valued resources to psychological wellbeing. Economic standard of living emerged as a critical and valued resource linked to the relative psychological impact of losses and gains of this resource. This research highlighted limitations in COR theory, in particular an absence of consideration of the differential values resources may have, and the different roles resources might play in maintaining psychological wellbeing. Questions were also raised about the refutability of COR theory. Implications for future research, theory and for the psychological wellbeing of older adults are discussed.
Older people, Elderly, Psychology, Well-being, Research Subject Categories::SOCIAL SCIENCES::Social sciences::Psychology