Kinship versus friendship: Social adaptation in married and widowed elderly women

Joann P Reinhardt, Fordham University


Elderly women (seventy-five married and seventy-six widowed) described their relationship with a daughter versus a same-sex close friend in terms of qualitative functions. These functions, outlined by Wright's (1969; 1985) theory of interpersonal relationships included stimulation value, ego support value and utility value. Also included was a measure of the strength of daughter and friend relationships, a measure of their strain and a measure of global favorability. The overall intimacy or emotional bondedness of daughter versus friend relationships was also compared. Qualitative dimensions of both daughters and friends were also assessed for their relation to life satisfaction in married and widowed women. The married and widowed women ranged in age from 62 to 80. They were not significantly different in age, health or education although married women had higher income than widowed women. Respondents were contacted in four urban senior citizen centers. Women who had both a daughter and a friend who lived within one hour proximity and who they felt close to volunteered to take part in the study. Responses to self report instruments were noted during private interviews. Results demonstrated that for both married and widowed respondents, daughters were perceived as providing more stimulation, ego support and utility than friends and as having a stronger relationship with respondents than friends. Relationships with daughters and friends did not significantly differ in emotional bondedness. Married women perceived both their daughters and their friends as more stimulating than widowed women. Moreover, married women were higher in life satisfaction than widowed women. While relationship dimensions did not predict life satisfaction in married women, for widowed women, life satisfaction was predicted by the ego support of daughters and the utility value and the total relationship strength (negative coefficient) of friends. The emotional bondedness of daughters but not friends predicted life satisfaction in widows. In summary, relationships with daughters were stronger and more rewarding than those with friends. When qualitative indices of relationships were used, aspects of both kin and friend relationships predicted life satisfaction. Finally, the significance of these relationship dimensions to life satisfaction differed as a function of marital status.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Gerontology

Recommended Citation

Reinhardt, Joann P, "Kinship versus friendship: Social adaptation in married and widowed elderly women" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8809482.