Equity theory and friendships in later life
Roberto, Karen A
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The purpose of the study was to examine the patterns of exchange that exist between older adults and their friends. Using equity theory as the conceptual base, five hypotheses were tested. Variables examined were the amount of distress reported in terms of the overall friend relationship, the helping aspect of the friendship and the affective component of the relationship by those individuals in equitable versus inequitable friendships; equity and friendship satisfaction; and the influence of demographic variables (i.e., gender, age, marital status, education, income, health, and contact with children) on the equity of exchanges between friends. A random sample of 116 white, urban adults, 65 years of age or older were interviewed for this study. Respondents were asked to discuss their relationship with their best friend and one other friend within their support network. Planned comparisons and Pearson correlations were used to test the first four hypotheses. Results provided support for these hypotheses. Older adults who perceived their relationship as equitable, were less distressed about all aspects of their friendships (i.e., overall, helping, affective) than participants who perceived themselves as being in an inequitable friendship. Pearson correlations showed that the more the respondents perceived themselves being overbenefited or underbenefited, the greater amount of distress they reported. In terms of friendship satisfaction, equity considerations seemed to be more important in the case of the "other" friend than for the "best" friend relationship. The fifth hypothesis was tested by means of a stepwise discriminant analysis. Several demographic variables distinguished between the equity of friendships in later life. Specifically, older males were more likely to perceive themselves in equitable friendships than older females. Respondents who reported frequent contact with their children were also more likely to be involved in equitable friendships. While additional research is necessary, equity theory seems to provide a useful conceptualization from which to examine friend relationships in later life.