Subject: Spiritual formation (Research) Spiritual formation (Demographic aspects) Spiritual life (Research)
Authors: Hammermeister Jon; Flint Matt; El-Alayli Amani; Ridnour Heather; Peterson Margaret
Abstract: This investigation examined the relationship between gender and spiritual well-being. This study assessed the hypothesis that gender differences may exist across spiritual health which may in turn be related to other psychosocial health variables (Hammermeister & Peterson 2001). Participants were 435 college students at two colleges in the Pacific Northwest. Results showed that females reported higher values on the measures of spiritual health than their male peers. Results of this study are the first to suggest that spiritual well-being may vary across gender.
Spiritual well-being appears to have a positive influence on most aspects of health (Carson Soeken & Grimm 1988; Ellison & Smith 1991; Fehring Brennan & Keller 1987; Hammermeister Flint Havens & Peterson 2001; Hammermeister & Peterson 2001; Hodges 1988; Landis 1996; Miller 1985; Waite Hawks & Gast 1999; Zautra Manne & Sharon 1992). Spiritual well-being can be defined as a sense of relatedness or connectedness to others a provision for meaning and purpose in life the fostering of well-being (through a stress buffering effect) and having a belief in and a relationship with a power higher than the self (Hawks Hull Thalman & Richins 1995). In light of the evidence supporting the association between spiritual well-being and many aspects of health it is surprising that inadequate attention has been paid to the examination of gender effects in this area. This paper will explore the hypothesis that gender effects may exist across the varying dimensions of spiritual well-being.
GENDER DIFFERENCES IN SPIRITUAL WELL-BEING
Gender differences have not been assessed in the peer-reviewed spiritual well-being literature. Kellums (1995) found that minor gender effects might be present in the Spiritual Well-Being Scale; however these effects were quite small (less than 2% of the variance on only 6 items) suggesting little practical importance. Other literature examining gender and spiritual well-being
to date does not exist. A closely related concept religiosity has been more extensively examined for gender effects and will be reviewed here.
GENDER DIFFERENCES IN RELIGIOSITY
Gender differences in religiosity which is a narrower subset of spiritual well-being is garnering more attention in the peer-reviewed literature (Argyle & Beit-Hallahmi 1975; Bengtson Kasschau & Ragan 1977; Blazer & Palmore 1976; Cornwall 1989; de Vaus & McAllister 1987; Francis & Wilcox 1996; Helode 1985; Koenig Kvale & Ferrel 1988; Levin Taylor & Chatter 1994; Miller & Hoffman 1995; Roof 1978). An emergent theme throughout the religiosity and gender literature is the more religious nature of females. This finding appears to be related to their different socialization expected roles life experiences and coping mechanisms relative to males. Levin (1994) suggests that the roles traits and behaviors socially ascribed to females are more compatible with some general religious tenets and/or principles. For example females are often socialized to nurture cooperate regulate emotions and seek social approval through external sources more than males. In addition Levin (1989) found that female health-related behaviors such as alcohol and tobacco consumption more closely mirror religious beliefs. Although spirituality and religiosity are often defined and measured differently their influence and association with one another is intuitive and indisputable.
Gender differences are apparent in the religiosity literature; however gender differences in spiritual well-being have not been previously investigated. Therefore the purpose of this study is to examine gender differences across the varying dimensions of spiritual well-being. The primary hypothesis to be explored is that females will display higher spiritual well-being given that they are higher in religiosity. College students were used as the sample in this study because they provided a sample of convenience for this particular investigation.
Data was collected in 1999 and 2000 as part of a larger project (Hammermeister et al. 2001; Hammermeister & Peterson 2001) examining the role spiritual and religious well-being plays in the psychosocial health of college students. Data regarding gender effects on spiritual well-being have not been previously reported until now.
A survey assessing multiple dimensions of health was administered to 435 college students who were enrolled in a required health and fitness course at two separate colleges in the Pacific Northwest. Response rate from both colleges combined was 435 out of 856 or 51%. The course content and material was similar at both colleges.
The survey consisted of 176 items including questions regarding current physical health indicators and indications of health-related behaviors. The survey also included the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (Ellison & Smith 1991). The Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS) consists of 20 questions scored on a Likert scale ranging from 1 strongly disagree to 6 strongly agree. The SWBS produces two subscales an existential well-being scale which measures the participants relationship with their environment and a religious well-being scale that measures the participants relationship with a higher power (God). The two subscales then combine to produce a total spiritual well-being score. The SWBS has been used in over 300 research endeavors and has consistently demonstrated its validity and reliably in measuring spiritual health (Ellison & Smith 1991). The SWBS has been administered to a number of populations including individuals in the health care profession people suffering from chronic illness and people who have rated themselves as either Christians or non-Christians (Ellison & Smith 1991). In addition to correlating positively to lowered blood pressure and ideal body weight individuals scoring high in spiritual well-being also tend to score high on psychological and relational scales (Ellison & Smith 1991). The questionnaire also had questions related to drug and alcohol use exercise frequency thoughts about suicide and other basic demographic information (e.g. age marital status year in school) which were not utilized in this manuscript.
Participants were recruited from students enrolled in a required health and fitness course offered at two separate colleges in the Pacific Northwest. At one college students were recruited during one of their physical activity sessions while at the other college students were recruited during their classroom meetings. Participants were informed that their participation was both anonymous and voluntary.
Analysis of variance (ANOVA) with follow-up least squares means analysis was employed to compare gender on the SWBS variables of interest. The dependent variables were the religious well-being scale the existential well being scale and the cumulative SWBS. Alpha was set at .01 for ANOVA analyses to decrease the probability of Type I errors associated with multiple comparisons while not severely limiting statistical power.
Males accounted for 39.5% (n = 172) while females comprised 60.5% (n = 263) of the sample. The vast majority of the participants reported their race as Caucasians (83.8%) with a smaller percentage (8.3%) reporting their race as African American. These self-report ethnic frequencies accurately reflect the racial distributions at these two colleges. Approximately 11% of the participants were freshmen (n = 49) 69.3% sophomores (n = 320) 13.1% juniors (n = 60) and 7.1% were seniors (n = 33). Ages ranged from 16 to 62 years with a mean age of 23.0 (SD = 6.9) for males and 22.0 (SD = 6.5) for females.
Alpha coefficients (Cronbach 1951) were calculated for the following scales: the Spiritual Well Being Scale ([alpha] = .89) the Religious Well-Being subscale ([alpha] = .95) and the Existential Well-Being subscale ([alpha] =.83). Thus all of the psychosocial subscales used in this study displayed good internal consistency (e.g. alpha coefficients > .70) and were retained for subsequent analyses.
LEAST SQUARES MEANS COMPARISONS FOR GENDER
Significant main effects of gender were found for the following: religious well-being F(1 416) = 14.21; p = .0002) existential well-being F(1416) = 7.21; p = 008) and spiritual well-being F(1416) = 16.51; p = .0001). Means standard deviations and least squares means results for each gender are reported in Table 1.
This study which included a relatively large number (n = 435) of college students is the first to clearly establish that gender differences exist in spiritual well-being. Several interesting results were found in relation to the variables of interest. First this study shows that gender effects may exist in religious existential and spiritual well-being. In this sample females scored higher on all three measures of spiritual well-being than males. While no published research identifies gender effects in the spiritual well-being literature the results of this study are similar to the findings of Kellums (1995) who found that minor gender effects might be present in the Spiritual Well-Being Scale. However the magnitudes of the differences found in this study were much larger than those Kellums (1995) reported and are found across both subscales of the SWBS as well as the measure as a whole.
The findings also appear to be congruent with the religiosity and gender literature. An emergent theme throughout the religiosity literature is the more religious tendencies of females versus males (Argyle & Beit-Hallahmi 1975; Bengtson et al. 1977; Blazer & Palmore 1976; Cornwall 1989; de Vans & McAllister 1987; Francis & Wilcox 1996; Helode 1985; Koenig et al. 1988; Levin et al. 1994; Miller & Hoffman 1995; Roof 1978). As mentioned this finding seems to be related to their different socialization expected roles life experiences and coping strategies relative to males. These may be the mechanisms behind the results found in the present study. Females in this sample may have been socialized to nurture cooperate regulate emotions and seek social approval through external sources more than their male counterparts. Readers should be cautioned that socialization variables were not accounted for in this study therefore the mechanism behind this finding still remains indefinite.
The role spiritual well-being plays in an individuals health is fairly well-established (Ellison & Smith 1991; Hammermeiste et al. 2001; Hammermeister & Peterson 2001; Landis 1996). Thus the identification of a group (i.e. males) which displays lower levels of a construct strongly associated with overall health is an important finding. Health education and psychology practitioners may wish to identify male college students as an important group for spiritual well-being interventions as a means to enhance other aspects of their health. Specifically
interventions which stress the key components of spiritual well-being (e.g. a sense of relatedness or connectedness to others a provision for meaning and purpose in life the fostering of well-being and having a belief in and a relationship with a power higher than the self) may be useful in helping this group attain spiritual well-being values similar to their female counterparts.
FUTURE RESEARCH IMPLICATIONS
In order to support the above ideas further research into the effects of gender and spiritual well-being are needed. Specifically more research is needed with populations other than college students and especially with populations who have manifested significant physical risk factors for disease. Furthermore the mechanisms behind these findings be they socialization biological or environmental still remain unknown and warrant further exploration.
While this exploratory study of the role that gender plays in spiritual well-being shows relatively strong associations these findings should be taken with a degree of caution. Specifically inferences regarding the mechanisms behind the gender differences in spiritual well-being cannot be made due to the methodological limitations of this study. Future research should explore this promising area for health enhancement with designs that will allow for assessment of causality and potential underlying mechanisms by including tools such as socialization instruments coping assessments stress and anxiety questionnaires physiological measures and other instruments which can cast light on the mechanisms responsible for gender differences in spiritual well-being. Such future work can allow for more informed interventions designed to enhance spiritual well-being in both males and females.
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