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Journal of Adolescence 1997, 20, 443–459

Life satisfaction among low-income rural youth from Appalachia
STEPHAN M. WILSON, CAROLYN S. HENRY AND GARY W. PETERSON
The purpose of this study was to examine the relative strength of objective, subjective, and congruency variables as predictors of life satisfaction among lowincome youth from rural areas. A 10-year longitudinal survey of low-income, rural youth from Appalachia (n=322) was conducted to explore these issues. Although support was provided for variables representing all three types of life satisfaction predictors, the strongest of these were subjective variables such as self-perceptions about goal attainment in jobs, overall goal attainment in life, and self-esteem. Another set of consistent predictors of life satisfaction, congruence variables, were concerned with the extent to which low-income youth believed that they had fulfilled their own aspirations in terms of formal education, proximity to their childhood homes, and number of children, Finally, some of the objective variables consisting of family of origin’s SES, community size, and marital status also were predictive of life satisfaction. In general, the life satisfaction of low-income, rural youth seemed to be influenced more extensively by personal meanings shaped within a particular cultural context rather than by traditional objective measures of life circumstances. © 1997 The Association for Professionals in Services for Adolescents

Introduction
Research on the quality of life often assumes that “being successful,” a central value of mainstream American culture, is supposed to be the primary basis for developing a sense of well-being. Although educational and occupational attainments are indicators of success for youth from economically deprived backgrounds, little empirical evidence exists that either upward mobility or improved socio-economic standing improves the subjective feelings of low-income youth about the quality of their lives (Otto, 1986; Wilson and Peterson, 1988). The quality of most individuals’ lives, in turn, is probably a product of their objective circumstances, personal interpretations, and individual goals for attainment. Consequently, more precise prediction of a person’s quality of life requires consideration of objective conditions (e.g. measures of “actual” economic and environmental conditions), subjective evaluations (e.g. individual assessments about their personal, family, and community circumstances), and the extent to which realistic assessments about one’s circumstances are congruent with personal desires (e.g. the degree of agreement between aspirations and realistic assessments of one’s possibilities). The work on life satisfaction began with analyses of objective indicators and later recognized more subjective influences (Campbell et al., 1976). Earlier work on life satisfaction for older youth from Appalachia was subsequently expanded to acknowledge
*Reprint requests and correspondence should be addressed to S. M. Wilson, Department of Family Studies, Research Center for Families and Children, 107 Erikson Hall, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 40506-0050, U.S.A. 0140-1971/97/040443+17/$25·00/0/ad970099© 1997 The Association for Professionals in Services for Adolescents

life satisfaction refers to the feelings of gratification that individuals perceive and experience in reference to the roles they occupy and perform (LaRossa and Reitzes. therefore. for example. 1992). Broman. this study was designed to examine the extent to which objective indicators. rural Appalachia) (Wilson et al. 1993). Fine and Schwebel. reflections of their particular cultural context (Watson and Protinsky. When viewed as obstacles to social mobility. and income levels) as “markers” of social status and life conditions.” Such obstacles may reflect important realities about the prevalent educational. In other words. and culturally specific referents) (Wilson and Peterson.g.g. 1976. higher levels of unemployment or underemployment. Objective indicators and life satisfaction Contrasting with a symbolic interactionist approach. social comparisons. selfevaluations.. From a symbolic interactionist perspective. A few investigators have also concluded that males report greater life satisfaction than females (Campbell et al. congruence predictors) would predict life satisfaction (an indicator of the quality of life) among low-income youth from rural areas of Appalachia. Conditions of life are often represented by sociodemographic “marker” variables which are indexes of certain barriers to the “pursuit of happiness. research on the quality of life has focused on the most concrete measures of attainment which are supposed to represent the ability of individuals to meet more basic needs (Campbell et al. poverty). researchers. these barriers include deficient income (i. 1988. in part. M.e. 1988). 1991).. Although “objective” factors are important indicators of the quality of life for low-income rural youth. more realistic assessments of the predictors of life satisfaction must go beyond objective indicators and include both subjective and congruence predictors. 1993). previous work on the quality of life for low-income youth often emphasized “objective” or actual life circumstances in the form of empirically-based measures of status attainment (i. 1989). Individuals develop conceptions about their self-identities based on the roles they perform. Peterson the critical importance of individual interpretive or cognitive evaluations (e. subjective assessments. the personal values they acquire. S. survey measures of occupational prestige.g. this approach assumes that external evaluators (e.e. service providers. educational attainment. 1976). Wilson. Specifically.. and discrepancies between a person’s aspirations and assessments of realistic opportunities (i. Based on these ideas. and especially the feelings of satisfaction that individuals report with reference to their lives (Umberson and Gove. occupational. an exceptionally understudied population. or policy-makers) can adequately define and assess components that either compose or contribute to the quality of life. and the quality of experiences they have. Previous investigators found that individuals who are raised in higher SES families have greater access to various attainment resources (e.444 S. finances for advanced education) and tend to be more likely to experience greater overall well-being than persons from more modest circumstances (Douthitt et al.e. which are.g. W. Henry and G. more recent research on the quality of life has increasingly emphasized psychological well-being. 1991) indicating that gender may be an important demographic predictor of differences in life quality. less . and gender inequities for many who reside in rural areas of the United States (e. Life satisfaction as an indicator of quality of life Historically. C..

1978.g. for example. youth tend to report high self-esteem. Gutek et al. and feelings of respondents (e.. Consequently.. and widowed statuses may be more discrepant from rural than from urban norms. 1986. reports of living in smaller and more accessible environments may function as indirect measures of the emotional. and fewer cultural amenities compared to urban environments (Murray and Keller. consequently. Wilson et al. Allardt. Ishii-Kuntz and IhingerTallman.g. whereas the single. 1988. 1983. 1990).. the extensive prevalence of deficient “objective” well-being may make a person’s individual circumstances seem less “deviant” and these may therefore be less inclined to adversely affect their satisfaction with life. an internal evaluation of the social self. Wilson and Peterson. values. material. for example. Consequently. and gender of respondent are examined in this study for their potential as predictors of life satisfaction. 1986. the variables community size and marital status are also included in the present study as possible “objective” marker variables which may predict the life satisfaction of rural youth. .. political. 1991). may have important implications for life satisfaction (Rosenberg. 1993)..Life satisfaction among Appalachian youth 445 adequate schools. 1993).e. Campbell et al. 1991. Community size. 1988. Recent research indicates. including self-esteem. Previous investigators have also reported that higher levels of self-esteem were positively related to general satisfaction with life (Campbell et al. Douthitt et al. Eyles. for example. 1983). 1988). 1991. Wilson and Peterson. some researchers advocate using subjective assessments of perceptions. Despite widespread economic deprivation in rural Appalachia.. 1976. 1993).. personal SES. Of particular importance is the fact that low-income women from rural areas seem more susceptible to these obstacles than men who face similar circumstances (Wilson et al. Another objective predictor of life satisfaction for rural youth is marital status. due to less variability in material well-being) (Peters et al. more limited social services. Eyles. 1983. 1992). Coombs. the objective “marker” variables personal income. Subjective assessments and life satisfaction Besides objective measures of life circumstances. income or other indicators of socio-economic standing) may be viewed as “normative” and. the family of origin’s SES. and social support to which individuals from rural backgrounds are accustomed. occupational goal attainment. Wilson and Peterson. encapsulates the accessibility of the local social.. Wilson et al. Subjective evaluations refer to personal judgements about aspects of individuals’ social and personal life. 1986). Self-esteem. less important predictors of life satisfaction in this environment than in urban areas (i. indicating that acceptance of individual circumstances may be important psychological resources which serve as a basis for feeling more positive about the quality of life (Reed and Kulpers. Because these deficiencies are so widespread in rural Appalachia. and evaluations that individuals make about their degree of progress toward life goals (Gutek et al. Sekaran. 1980). Objective indicators of life quality for rural youth may also serve as markers of certain advantages often presumed to be aspects of rural life (Melton. In other words. divorced. 1986. Consequently. that young adults from rural America tend to have more traditional expectations which encourage high rates of marriage (Kenkel. and economic systems for individuals and families from rural areas (Golant and McCutcheon. sociodemographic or “objective” indicators of lower levels of attainment (e. 1976). 1976. 1990. Marriages which take place in rural areas are commonly viewed as providing a normative form of connectedness..

1987). Congruency assessments and life satisfaction A largely unexplored class of variables which we refer to as judgements about congruency are also expected to predict life satisfaction. Sarigiani et al. 1988). 1988) also indicates that low-income rural youth tend to have higher educational expectations than aspirations (i. For example. subjective variables involving perceived adequacy of job goal attainment. when discrepancies are perceived between aspirations and expectations (i. Furthermore. when job aspirations exceed job expectations among low-income youth. 1980. Reck and Reck. Mason and Faulkenberry.. for example. the degree of congruence represents the extent to which an individual’s ideals and desires correspond with (or deviate from) more realistic assessments of the limitations he or she faces. Another type of congruency judgement is based on comparisons that individuals make . However. foster more positive feelings about current life circumstances.446 S. in turn. 1990). 1976.g. Feelings about the adequacy of occupational goal attainment and progress toward life goals in general are important aspects of a person’s identity which. That is. their frustrations may lead to lower life satisfaction (Campbell et al.e. Consequently. Peterson Other forms of subjective assessment include overall evaluations about the extent to which sufficient progress is being made toward occupational and other goals of life. Two domains for which individuals may develop assessments based on congruency are within the occupational and educational spheres of life. 1980. Such personal assessments of being “ontime” in terms of one’s life plan and positive feelings about oneself would. 1987. Reck and Reck. 1980. Alwin. rural youth. 1978. as a person’s wants or aspirations seem unrealistic or unattainable). in turn. Such discrepancies. Wilson and Peterson. Some research (e. self-esteem) were included in this study as possible predictors of life satisfaction among low-income. Zimbelman. indicate that rural youth may become frustrated by pressures to pursue “expected” levels of education to which they do not aspire. of course. Congruence assessments are derived from the degree of consistency between a person’s aspirations (or ideals) and her or his more realistic expectations (Gutek et al. S.e. and feelings about the self (i. they expect that they will have to go further in school than they wish they had to go). One form of congruency variable involves the degree of consistency between the goals to which individuals aspire (or wish to attain) and their expectations which are rooted in “realistic” assessments of everyday life.e. C.. perceived attainment of overall life goals. such educational demands may be frustrating for low-income youth from rural Appalachia who feel torn between the conflicting perspectives about the value of formal education as a path to success and their traditional rural values which are less oriented toward social mobility. Low-income rural youth establish these internal assessments based on the range of opportunities which are viewed as desirable and feasible within their social and physical environments. Henry and G. M. W.. Wilson. are likely contributors to feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with life. that occupational and educational attainments alone are insufficient predictors of life satisfaction among low-income rural youth (Wilson and Peterson. substantial discontent or a “job opportunity gap” often emerges as individuals perceive disparity between the goals to which they aspire compared to the perceived limitations set by available job opportunities. 1983). These disparities are compounded by feelings of ambivalence about the urban values conveyed in schools and doubts about the reality of any necessity for advanced education to succeed in the limited types of employment available to low-income rural youth (Photiadis. Previous research has demonstrated.

closeness to childhood home. and objective variables and predictors of life satisfaction among low-income youth from rural Appalachia. S-171. Hypotheses 5 and 6 reported life satisfaction of married respondents should be higher than that of divorced. Method Sample Data for this study were drawn from Southern Regional Projects S-63. material. having more children than desired might be associated with greater demands and frustrations. personal SES. the degree of consistency between a desire to live near one’s childhood home and the actual place of residence (in early adulthood) is another important congruency variable.g. Hypotheses 1–3 reported life satisfaction of rural youth should be positively related to income.e.e. life goal attainment. educational demands. an objective predictor). Finally. and family-of-origin’s SES (i. minimal evidence exists on the extent to which a person’s subjective and congruency (or discrepancy) variables contribute to the quality of life.. Consequently. Beaver. and self-esteem (i. Previous research and theory provided the basis for the following hypotheses among lowincome rural youth. Finally. Specifically. subjective. As indicated by previous research. S-126.Life satisfaction among Appalachian youth 447 between their aspirations for something and the actual outcomes that are attained. discrepancies between aspirations and either realistic expectations or actual circumstances) in the perceived job opportunity gap. many youth from rural Appalachia desire to maintain proximity to their homes of origin (e.e. or separated and that male respondents’ life satisfaction should be higher than females (i. and . the congruence between a person’s aspirations for proximity to their childhood home and their actual residential outcome serves as an index of the extent to which a person’s homeplace or residence is acceptable. congruency. 1982. and proximity to childhood home are included as possible predictors of life satisfaction in this population.e. Peters et al.e. educational demands. the degree of congruency or discrepancy between the desired and actual number of children may serve as another life circumstance of considerable importance to young adults (McLanahan and Adams. job opportunities. Hypotheses 7–9 described life satisfaction as positively related to perceived occupational goal attainment. congruency assessments involving the number of children. Consequently. Hypothesis 4 described life satisfaction as negatively related to community size (i. widowed. subjective predictors). a goal reflecting the emotional. That is. while having fewer children than desired may be another source of disappointment when pronatalist norms are pervasive and parenthood is a central component of one’s personal identity. and social support provided by extended families and local communities. Based on such logic. and the number of children (congruency predictors). objective predictors). an overall objective of this study was to determine the relative strength of these subjective. 1986). this study explored the relative strength of several objective. and congruency variables as predictors of life satisfaction among low-income youth from rural Appalachia. Hypotheses 10–13 reported life satisfaction should be negatively related to the level of incongruence (i. 1987) including low-income rural youth from Appalachia. both size of community and gender are objective predictors). Research hypotheses Although substantial research provides a basis for understanding objective predictors of life satisfaction.

A third panel (late youth) of data was collected during the respondents’ late youth years (mean age=21·1 years) by mailing surveys to the homes of the participants and requesting that they complete and return the questionnaires by mail. Sampling quotas for each state were obtained by selecting about one in three of the potential schools. high school. a longitudinal investigation of low-income rural youth sponsored by the Agricultural Experiment Stations in seven south-eastern states (Southern Regional Technical Committee. North Carolina. These respondents were drawn from 20 schools located in areas characterized by high levels of unemployment. income. Henry and G. marriage. rural Blacks. W. child IQ scores were used to screen youth (scores below 80). Measurement Measure of overall life satisfaction. White youth (140 males and 182 females) who participated in all three data collection phases (i. were measured with data collected during the second (high school) and third (late youth) panels. and housing. Wilson. the criterion variable. was assessed during the third panel when the respondents were (average age) 21·1-years-old. The present study was a subcomponent of a larger project which used a baseline purposive sample of 579 mother–child pairs from economically depressed areas of Kentucky. 1974. Such screening procedures were used to exclude early adolescents who would have difficulty responding to the questionnaire and to ensure that a low-income sample was acquired. and by general economic hard times. 1986). and urban Blacks. grade school. Shoffner and Peterson. The initial or elementary school phase of data collection was conducted by administering surveys to the respondents (mean age=11·2 years) in their fifth and sixth grade classrooms by members of the research team.448 S. poverty and nearby towns of 2500 or fewer residents. Life satisfaction.. The Cronbach’s alpha coefficient for the scale was 0·73 (Wilson and Peterson. In the current study. The family of origin SES variable was assessed during the first (elementary school) panel. All the variables for the present study. except the socioeconomic status of the family of origin (from elementary phase). 1988). Shoffner and Peterson. M. poverty. The original sample was drawn to include groups of rural Appalachian Whites. and youth from families from higher socio-economic backgrounds were excluded from the present sample (Southern Regional Technical Committee. Peterson TN 682. Kenkel. 1986. a subsample of 322 low-income rural. 1993) were used. S.e. The second panel of data (high school phase) was acquired from the respondents during high school (mean age=17·1 years) using surveys administered through the high school classrooms or in the homes of those who were high school dropouts. Further. Overall life satisfaction (late youth phase) was measured with a scale which included nine Likert items asking respondents about their degree of satisfaction with their present circumstances (ranging from 4=“very satisfied” to 1=“very dissatisfied”) in specific life domains such as their current job. Kenkel. 1974. education. and Tennessee. The first (elementary school) phase of the sampling design involved the selection of elementary schools in rural areas characterized by high levels of unemployment. The potential schools were selected by stratification criteria based on community size. Measures of objective factors. and late youth assessments) (see Wilson et al. 1986. The measures of marital status and size of . C. 1986).

1961) and then transformed to a nine-point Duncan Scale (Duncan.e. how well have things gone so far?” (4=“very well” to 1=“very poorly”). divorced. involved the degree of discrepancy between the (high school phase) respondents’ responses regarding the educational level they hoped to achieve (aspirations) and the amount of education they actually expected to achieve (expectations). 1988). The Cronbach’s alpha reliability coefficient for this self-esteem scale was 0·72 (Wilson and Peterson. The higher the congruency score (i. single. 1961). .” 2=“about the same as I hoped.” 1=“worse than I had hoped”). Thus. higher scores represent greater discrepancy between aspirations and expectations or between aspirations and achieved outcomes. The socio-economic level of each participant’s family of origin was measured from descriptions of either their fathers’ or their mothers’ jobs (elementary phase). “Considering all the jobs you have had since you left high school. The respondents’ responses for both their educational aspirations and expectations were assessed in terms of six fact sheet categories of successively higher schooling or training levels. widowed) coded 0. Feelings of overall goal attainment in life were measured (late youth phase) by the question. Measures of subjective factors. males coded 1). The job opportunity gap (i.e. Community size used four response categories (ranging from 1= “In open country or a small town under 10. Congruency variables were constructed by comparing the respondent’s aspirations (high school phase) to one of the two standards: either (a) realistic expectations about likely results (high school phase) or (b) the current circumstances (late youth phase). Gender of respondent was assessed (late youth phase) with a standard fact sheet item having male and female categories (female coded 2. “Think back to four years ago and what your life’s plans were at that time. Occupational titles for these aspirations and expectations were coded with the NORC Occupational Prestige Scale (Reiss. Self-esteem was measured (late youth phase) using a four-item Likert-type scale asking respondents about attitudes toward themselves (4= “strongly agree” to 1=“strongly disagree”).Life satisfaction among Appalachian youth 449 community (late youth phase) in which the respondents resided were assessed from two standard fact sheet items. the absolute value of the number derived by subtracting one score from the other).e. Measures of congruency assessments.e. separated. aspirations) during the high school phase of data collection. the higher the gap. occupational expectations from late youth phase) from scores for employment titles which the respondents had hoped to achieve (i. while current income level was assessed (late youth phase) with a questionnaire item providing a selection of seven income categories. Subsequently.000 people”). Feelings of progress toward occupational goals were assessed (late youth phase) with the question. The educational demands variable.e. in turn. 1961).000” to 4=“In a big city or its suburbs over 50. How well would you say things have worked out?” (3=“better than I had hoped. the educational demands variable was constructed by subtracting the educational scores from the educational aspirations scores. participant’s occupational aspirations minus their realistic expectations) was constructed by subtracting the scores for occupational titles actually expected (i. Each respondent’s socio-economic level was assessed by categorizing a description of current employment (late youth phase) according to a 100point score from the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) Occupational Prestige Scale (Reiss. Marital status was a categorical variable with the married respondents coded 1 and all other statuses (i.

by the late youth phase when the sample had a average age of 21). objective. Wilson.e. discrepancy). and congruency variables were predictive of life satisfaction among youth from economically deprived areas of rural Appalachia. †A 0 (zero) indicates perfect congruence between aspirations and expectations or between aspirations and outcomes. Table 1 Descriptive statistics for the life satisfaction. subjective. Peterson The number of children/discrepancy variable was constructed by comparing the respondents’ responses to the questions regarding the number of children desired (i. Results The descriptive statistics for the variables included in this study are presented in Table 1 and correlations among the variables are presented in Table 2. Henry and G. the closeness to childhood home/discrepancy variable was constructed by subtracting the respondents’ reports of the distance they wanted to live from their childhood home (high school phase) from the currently (late youth phase) reported actual distance from the childhood home as young adults. M. during the high school phase) minus the actual current number of children born to respondents (i. . Thus. the higher the absolute value of the score (i. Finally. the lower the congruence.D. W. C. subjective. S. 0·25 11·45 9·96 0·70 0·49 0·50 0·82 0·70 1·71 8·89 1·54 1·34 1·25 0·44 *Scale means were constructed by summing all items and dividing the sum by the number of scale items thereby producing a scale mean and standard deviation within the theoretical range for a single item. and congruency variables Variables Objective variables Income Personal SES Family of origin’s SES Community size Marital status Gender Subjective variables Job goal attainment Life goal attainment Self-esteem* Congruency variables† Job opportunity gap Educational demands Closeness to childhood home/discrepancy Number of children/discrepancy Criterion variable Life satisfaction* Theoretical range 1–7 1–100 1–100 1–4 0–1 1–2 1–9 1–3 4–16 0–7 0–9 0–4 0–8 1–4 M 3·58 52·24 56·18 1·25 0·61 1·56 1·99 1·71 12·88 6·44 0·32 2·06 1·77 3·24 S.e.450 S.e. Multiple regression analysis was used to examine the extent to which objective.

**p Յ0·01. 1 Dummy coding was used for gender (male=1. 451 .Table 2 (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) Correlations among variables (14) (1) — −0·05 — 0·00 0·10 0·10* 0·06 0·11* 0·03 0·29*** — 0·15** — −0·09* 0·01 0·00 −0·07 — 0·27*** — — −0·29*** — 0·29*** 0·22*** — −0·15* 0·11* −0·03 0·09 — 0·01 0·08 −0·19** 0·09 — 0·02 −0·10 — 0·09 −0·22*** — −0·08 0·05 0·05 0·08 −0·06 −0·05 0·13* −0·21*** −0·07 0·03 −0·10* 0·06 −0·03 0·14** 0·03 0·10* −0·07 0·04 0·07 −0·00 0·00 −0·02 0·33*** 0·11* −0·00 0·25*** 0·22*** 0·07 −0·13* −0·08 0·02 −0·16** 0·03 0·16 −0·01 — −0·09 −0·05 0·11 0·14 0·04 0·07 −0·12* −0·01 0·05 0·29 −0·10 0·11 0·03 −0·04 Life satisfaction among Appalachian youth 0·01 Objective variables (1) Income (2) Personal SES (3) Family of origin’s SES (4) Community size (5) Marital status1 (6) Gender1 Subjective variables (7) Job goal attainment (8) Life goal attainment (9) Self-esteem Congruency variables (10) Job opportunity gap (11) Educational demands (12) Closeness to childhood home/discrepancy (13) Number of children/ discrepancy Criterion (14) Life satisfaction 0·46*** 0·38*** 0·35*** −0·23*** −0·11* 0·02 — 0·27*** −0·15** — 0·11* *pՅ 0·05. married=1). ***pՅ 0·001. female=2) and marital status (other=0.

and marital status (H5). life goal attainment (H8). no direct effects of gender on life satisfaction were found in a multiple regression of the 13 predictor variables on life satisfaction. and marital status (0·15/0·02). 0·16. Because all the interaction terms were non-significant. while both marital status (0·17) and the SES of family of origin (0·11) were positive predictors of life satisfaction (see Table 3). by older adolescence/young adulthood. Part correlations and R2 change for these variables were perceived attainment of job goals (0·25/0·06). community size was a negative predictor (−0·17). Personal income (H1).e. community size (H4).e. was used to examine further whether gender differences existed in the predictors of life satisfaction. consisting of the gender of youth dummy variable × each predictor variable (e. at p<0·05) were significantly related for each predictor variable with life satisfaction for 10 of the 13 hypotheses. socio-economic status of the family of origin (H3). were created and entered as a block of variables in a second step of the analysis following the entrance of all the main effect predictors in an initial step. the final analysis for this study included only the main effects predictors (i. 1983). and gender (H6). Further.452 S. It is evident that subjective variables explained more variance in life satisfaction than did the objective variables used in this study. and number of children/discrepancy (H13) (i. betas or β) were examined for statistical significance to test each hypothesis (p<0·05). Wilson.e. who lived in smaller communities. Significant standardized betas (β) provided support for three of the six hypotheses involving the objective variables. family of origin’s SES. Specifically. t-Test analysis showed no differences in the mean of life satisfaction for men vs. involving a two-step procedure.g. Part correlations and R2 change for the significant variables were SES of family of origin (0·11/0·01). C. W. closeness to childhood home/discrepancy (H12).e. job goal attainment (H7). Such findings indicate that. and selfesteem (H9). educational demands (H11). the non-significant interaction terms were dropped as recommended by Cohen and Cohen. self-esteem). Further. the subjective variables). S. while the combined predictive capacity of the model in relation to life satisfaction was evaluated with the multiple R and R2 coefficients (Cohen and Cohen.e. and who traced their backgrounds to families of higher SES tended to demonstrate higher life satisfaction. Peterson Table 2 (correlations among the variables) shows that the hypothesized direction for each predictor variable was confirmed. women. Specifically. . the correlations (i. marital status (H5). The positive standardized betas for these hypotheses indicate that life satisfaction is higher among those youth who value themselves and who view their progress toward occupational and life goals as being on target. 12 interaction terms. community size (H4). Nevertheless. personal SES (H2). 1983) and men and women respondents were treated as a single group experiencing life satisfaction. perceived attainment of life goals (0·14/0·02). and gender of youth (H6) (i. the congruency variables) were regressed in the same statistical model on life satisfaction. and 0·19 (see Table 3). SES of family of origin (H3). an initial regression analysis. Henry and G.e. Standardized regression coefficients (i. and gender were not confirmed to be correlated with life satisfaction among Appalachian youth. as well as job opportunity gap (H10). the objective variables). Part correlations were used to assess the relative size of the predictors in reference to the life satisfaction of youth. and self-esteem (H9) (i. Non-significant relationships were found for income (H1). M. those who were married (rather than single). with respective significant standardized betas of 0·28. perceived attainment of life goals (H8). community size (−0·16/0·02). Substantial support was provided for all three hypotheses involving the subjective variables attainment of job goals (H7). and self-esteem (0·18/0·03). Only personal income. socio-economic status of youth (H2).

****p ≤ 0·0001. and congruence variables as predictors of life satisfaction b S. **p ≤ 0·01. b=unstandardized beta coefficient. β=standardized beta coefficient.E.Table 3 Multiple regression analysis for objective.E. β Part Partial correlation correlation −0·01 0·00 0·11 −0·16 0·15 0·03 0·84 0·81 0·95 0·86 0·81 0·74 0·81 0·83 0·87 0·85 0·94 0·86 0·93 0·6332 0·4010 0·3757 15·8610*** 0·0642 0·0208 0·0318 0·0067 0·0087 0·0291 0·0082 0·0002 0·0000 0·0119 0·0242 0·0242 0·0008 0·25 0·14 0·18 −0·08 −0·09 −0·17 −0·09 −0·11 −0·12 −0·22 −0·12 0·31 0·18 0·22 −0·02 0·01 0·14 −0·20 0·19 0·04 Tolerance Unique R2 change Objective variables (1) Income (2) Personal SES (3) Family of origin’s SES (4) Community size (5) Marital status (6) Gender −0·01 0·00 0·00 −0·11 0·15 0·03 0·02 0·00 0·00 0·03 0·04 0·05 0·03 0·03 0·01 0·00 0·01 0·02 0·02 −0·09 −0·10* −0·18**** −0·09* 0·28**** 0·16*** 0·19**** 0·15 0·10 0·05 0·00 −0·03 −0·06 −0·03 −0·02 0·00 0·11* −0·17*** 0·17*** 0·03 Subjective variables (7) Job goal attainment (8) Life goal attainment (9) Self-esteem Life satisfaction among Appalachian youth Congruency variables (10) Job opportunity gap (11) Educational demands (12) Closeness to childhood home/discrepancy (13) Number of children/discrepancy Multiple correlations (R) Multiple correlation squared (R2) Adjusted multiple correlation squared (R2) F-value *p ≤ 0·05. subjective.=standard error. 453 . S. ***p ≤ 0·001.

predictor variables were sufficiently independent of each other to meet the assumptions of multiple regression analysis. (H12) closeness to childhood home/discrepancy (−0·18). however. and congruency variables in research models which seek to predict life satisfaction among low-income rural youth. Wilson. when testing the relationship of each variable with the effects of all other relationships statistically removed. S. a more complex pattern emerges (Table 3). A nonsignificant beta was found for (H10) the job opportunity gap in reference to life satisfaction. Henry and G. closeness to childhood home/discrepancy (−0·17/0·03). Such findings indicate that wider discrepancies between educational aspirations and the realities (expectations) faced by youth in these attainment areas tend to lower their feelings of satisfaction with life. Examination of the relationship of each individual variable (i. subjective and congruency assessments) as predictors of life satisfaction. was provided for considering individuals’ own assessments of their life circumstances (i. Part correlations and R2 change were educational demands (−0·09/0·01). Discussion The results of this study support the inclusion of objective.e. F value 15·86. M. Specifically. and number of children/discrepancy (−0·09/0·01). rather than relying exclusively on mainstream assumptions about the importance of “objective” or marker variables as predictors of the quality of life. rural youth from Appalachia. Finally. Such results underscore the importance of individual perspectives developed within specific cultural contexts. congruency (three of four predictors). However. W. negative beta coefficients were evident for predictions involving (H11) educational demands (−0·10). An overall examination of the model indicates that the subjective (all three predictors). their subjective interpretations of these conditions. the three strongest predictors were two subjective variables (part correlations/R2 change were job goal attainment 0·25/0·06 and self-esteem 0·18/0·03) and one congruency variable (partial correlation for closeness to childhood home −0·17/0·03) (see Table 3). Such findings indicate that both subjective and congruency variables play somewhat greater roles than objective variables in defining the life satisfaction of low-income. zero-order correlations) correlated with life satisfaction (Table 2) suggests one set of relationships. The strongest support. These results also indicate that low-income youth are less satisfied with their lives when they currently live farther than desired from their childhood homes and have differing numbers of children than they wish. the overall model was also strongly significant (multiple R=0·63. The results demonstrate that use of part/partial correlations are more informative as these show valence and strength of relationships (as does zero-order correlation) but does so while controlling . and the (H13) number of children/discrepancy (−0·09) variables (see Table 3). The findings of this study point to the importance of analyses which go beyond simple correlations. and feelings about one’s life in comparison to initial expectations. Furthermore. Such findings indicate that a person’s experienced quality of life is a function of the “real” circumstances which they face. Inspection of tolerances and intercorrelations among the predictor variables indicated multicollinearity was not a problem. subjective. p <0·0001) and accounted for 40·1% of the variance (38% Adjusted R2) in life satisfaction (see Table 3).e.454 S. C. Peterson Three of the four hypotheses involving congruency variables were supported with significant standardized beta coefficients as predictors of youthful life satisfaction. and objective variables (three of six predictors) were consistent predictors of youthful life satisfaction.

for example. was a negative predictor of life satisfaction for rural. Congruency variables and life satisfaction Assessments about congruency served as important predictors of life satisfaction among lowincome rural youth. part/partial correlations. or singlehood may be discrepant from rural norms and contribute to further social isolation and decreased satisfaction with life. Self-esteem (H9) was the second strongest predictor of overall satisfaction with life among rural Appalachian youth. a congruency variable. were strong predictors of life satisfaction. Perceived goal attainment (i. in fact. Educational demands (H11). Family of origin’s SES was a significant predictor of life satisfaction. In the first case. Wilson and Peterson.e. Support was provided for the symbolic interaction idea that the meanings which individuals assign to themselves will. rather than being a more recent product of the respondents’ efforts. indicates that youth from rural backgrounds are more likely to be satisfied with life when they reside in areas that are minimally urbanized and provide proximity to significant others (Korte. shape their conceptions of social reality and the ongoing experiences of everyday life (LaRossa and Reitzes. Thus. feelings of satisfaction with life. When . other than mainstream status attainment) may be. economically dispossessed Appalachian youth. in turn. The negative relationship between community size and life satisfaction. marriage appears to provide a source of connectedness in rural areas. The positive relationship for marital status suggests that conventional values remain prevalent in rural areas of Appalachia. with marriage providing feelings of being connected to others and. 1988).Life satisfaction among Appalachian youth 455 the overlap in explained variance of two or more competing variables. H4 community size. Such findings seem to indicate that higher family SES may have greater influence on life satisfaction when it derives from the previous generation. in turn. As expected. 1983. perceived attainment in job goals was a stronger predictor of life satisfaction than any of the other predictor variables. 1993). Specifically. low-income rural youth who believed they were making effective progress toward job or career goals also were the most likely to be satisfied with their lives. Community size and marital status were significant predictors of life satisfaction among the low-income youth who participated in this study. Subjective assessments and life satisfaction Two subjective variables. Objective measures and life satisfaction Three of the objective variables (H3 family of origin’s SES. 1992). while the statuses of divorce. Such results emphasize the importance of personal evaluations about progress toward life goals rather than simply “objective” (and possibly subculturally biased) measures of attainment. and standardized betas reveal the order and magnitude of explained variance of each variable while controlling for competing explanation of variance of other variables in the research model. in turn. but personal SES was not. perceived attainment in job goals (H7) and perceived attainment in life goals (H8). a central aspect of identity development which. separation. High self-esteem appears to function as a personal coping resource which assists low-income rural youth to define their economically deprived life circumstances in more positive terms. may be an important contributor to life satisfaction (Grotevant. and H5 marital status) were predictors of life satisfaction among low-income rural youth.

That both subjective and congruency variables were significant predictors indicates that a substantial amount of life satisfaction is based on constructed meanings which may or may not be representative of actual circumstances. Other congruency variables (H12 closeness to home and H13 child number discrepancies) were negative predictors and demonstrated how personal compromises between “what is hoped for” and “what actually is” contribute to the subjective interpretations of these youth and. Such incongruity between educational expectations and aspirations for low-income rural youth appeared to be a source of greater frustration and diminished life satisfaction. 1980. was also a negative predictor of life satisfaction for rural youth. Discrepancies in either direction from the preferred goal may contribute to diminished satisfaction with life. which corresponds with a person’s aspirations.g. and loyalty to and support from their homeplace. The predictive importance of perceived incongruence between desire to live close to one’s childhood home and one’s actual place of residence illustrates the importance of continuity and family bonds as sources of life satisfaction for rural youth (Wilson and Peterson. Such perceptions about children are concerned with the degree to which actual circumstances correspond with aspirations shaped by personal preferences and cultural expectations for child-bearing and parenting. Close proximity to one’s childhood home. C. may enhance the perceived quality of life by providing psychological and material support in response to everyday stressors (e. the overall pattern of predictive correlates of life satisfaction (i. the pragmatic reasons for advanced education may be less clear to rural youth from Appalachia than to their urban counterparts. 1988). Faced by values from urban America which underscore the importance of higher education. and unemployment). Photiadis and Simoni. alternative child care) as well as support in response to more serious crises (e.g. 1973).. this may indicate that youth feel pressured (or expected) to pursue levels of education to which they do not aspire.456 S. Peters et al. Wilson. divorce. Having more children than desired may contribute to economic and psychological stress. drawing from objective. Summary and conclusions The present results support moving beyond an exclusive reliance on objective factors in favor of subjective and congruency variables as predictors. death. S.e. Peterson discrepancies between educational expectations and aspirations occur. 1983. Although the results of this study generalize specifically to lowincome rural youth from Appalachia. obligations. help to shape the quality of their lives. Henry and G. while having fewer children than desired may place young adults at odds with personal preferences shaped by pronatalist norms (Veevers. M. Another congruency variable. Given that rural Appalachia often provides fewer opportunities for occupations requiring advanced education. The results also raise the question of whether . Youth from rural Appalachia often have long histories of extended family ties. and congruency variables) may also be useful for understanding life satisfaction among youth who reside in more densely populated areas irrespective of community size. these low-income youth may experience ambivalence and frustration over expectations for educational attainment which do not correspond with the realistic employment opportunities in rural environments (Reck and Reck. 1986). W. perceived discrepancies between the number of children desired and the current number of children. in turn. subjective.

there is the possibility of shared methods variance. subjective. 52. with the possible result being that coefficients reported in this study are inflated by shared methods variance. The sample for this subcomponent of the project was acquired specifically to represent low-income White youth from rural Appalachia. However. In Holding on to the land . This. Tomasson. Distributive justice and satisfaction with material well-being. Such findings indicate that life satisfaction can be attained through pathways that differ from conventional conceptions of contemporary. The importance of subjective and congruency variables in this study. which may place limitations on generalizability. it is important for professionals who work with low-income rural youth to become more aware of and sensitive to how a person’s “interpretation” of his/her circumstances function to modify the meaning and experience of life satisfaction. D. mainstream American culture. Instead. P. Appalachian families land ownership and public policy. Intervention strategies should be designed and evaluated in terms of objective. rural backgrounds through the development of coping mechanisms and the lowering of expectations in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. In Comparative Studies in Sociology. however. reports of high life satisfaction in the face of adversity may simply reflect the resilience of youth from low-income. E. F. Greenwich. of course.). CT: J. The relationship between objective and subjective indicators in light of a comparative study. does not provide the basis for neglecting obvious deficiencies in the objective conditions of rural life in Appalachia. both are one person’s perception). Because both individual and social factors are embedded in cultural contexts. and congruency contributors to life satisfaction. Because the dependent measure is an index of subjective reports about various domains of life and several independent variables are also subjective reports. not simply objective or simply subjective) paradigms. While this is a methods problem. It is also important to recognize that issues of non-independence of measurement may exist between the predictor and criterion variables (i. (Ed.e. This study simply recognizes the existence of alternative pathways to life satisfaction which differ from the American “mainstream view” that personal well-being is predominately a function of objective circumstances. 203–216. (1978). F. D. Beaver. An important shortcoming was the non-probability sampling strategy that was used. R. A.. the most theoretically sound method of addressing the issues of this study would be to examine how a person’s life satisfaction is predicted by their own subjective assessments of life circumstances. it is noteworthy that the zero-order correlations for these variables did not show high intercorrelations. pp. Aldwin. (1982). References Allardt. The foregoing is consistent with a long and respected intellectual history going back to Confucius and Aristotle which questions exclusive reliance on the assumptions that material and status attainments or higher aspirations necessarily translate into higher life satisfaction. I. 83–95.Life satisfaction among Appalachian youth 457 conceptualizations of quality of life for other groups of youth follow similar (i. (1987).e. is the methodology that was chosen for the current study. Despite the logical pattern of these results. Nevertheless. the overall pattern of findings yields important new insights into how Appalachian youth experience their quality of life. certain methodological and sampling issues may limit the interpretation and generalizability of these findings. American Sociological Review. from a symbolic interaction perspective.

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