Leisure activity and well-being among the elderly in Taiwan: Testing hypotheses in an Asian setting Z A C H A R Y Z I M M E R 1 & H U I - S H E N G LIN 2 Population Studies Center and Department of Sociology, University of Michigan, and Centre on Aging, University of Victoria; 2Research and Planning Division, Taiwan Provincial Institute of Family Planning, The Republic of China
Abstract. Studies conducted in Western nations suggest hypotheses regarding the relationship between leisure activity and well-being among older adults. For instance, leisure activity is found to increase feelings of emotional well-being, and there are gender differences in both the types of activities in which elders tend to engage and their subsequent influences. This study attempts to verify these relationships among a sample of 4,049 Taiwanese elders (age 60+). Analyses show that men participate in most leisure activities with greater frequency than women; physical activity has the strongest positive influence on emotional well-being; contemplative activity, the only pursuit in which women out-participate men, displays a negative effect for women, and; the impact of different activity types vary by gender. These results both substantiate and refute hypotheses developed in the West, suggesting cultural variation in the impact of activity. Gender differences are explained in the context of role expectations and self-concept development. Key words: Life satisfaction, Well-being, Activity participation, Leisure activity, Taiwan, Elderly
M a n y social theories and hypotheses in the field of gerontology have been developed through empirical analyses o f North American and European sampies. Few studies attempt to verify these suppositions in settings where social structures and role expectations differ. While some hypotheses may stand the test o f cross-cultural validation, others may be more culturally dependent, but testing for them is no doubt advantageous to theory building. In the West, leisure activity has been found to be an influential determinant o f successful aging, although there are distinct participation differences between men and w o m e n elders and variations in the subsequent effects on emotional well-being. The Activity Theory of Aging, with its emphasis on role e n h a n c e m e n t and development o f self-concept through activity which promotes social integration, provides one explanation for the association. Researchers also point to the potential o f leisure activity to enhance
Z. ZIMMER & HUI-SHENG LIN
well-being through psycho-social processes such as feelings of competency, control and self-efficacy. This paper attempts to verify these commonly accepted notions in an Asian setting. A rapidly modernizing society in Taiwan may lead some to assume that social structures which influence the relationship between activity and wellbeing are no different than those observed elsewhere. However, Taiwanese elders have been brought up in a very different cultural setting and role expectations which are dissimilar from those previously observed.
Development of hypotheses
Accounting for factors which influence the well-being of seniors has been a much researched topic. Demographic characteristics, such as income and marital status, health status, and social integration characteristics, have all been shown to exhibit important relationships with measures of well-being, life satisfaction and depression (see, for example: Chappe!l 1992; Doyle & Forehand 1984; Duff & Hong 1982; Kennedy, King & Muraco 1983; Lee 1978; McKenzie & Campbell 1987; Palmore & Kivett 1977). Research has generally demonstrated that participation in leisure activity is also a consequential determinant of successful aging. Markides & Martin (1979), for example, found activity to be the most important...