A cross-cultural study examines human behavior by comparing members of at least two different societies. Comparing two groups that differ only in terms of culture allows researchers the opportunity to determine whether certain traits, behaviors, and practices are culturally bound. In addition to differentiating contextual factors, like socioeconomic status and education, from cultural factors, cross-cultural studies can also test hypotheses posed about a certain way of life. Cross-cultural studies also answer questions of variations.
Do traits like intelligence or self-esteem differ across different countries? Every culture cherishes its strengths and absorbs its weaknesses. Cross-cultural studies allow scientists and researchers to define the unique personalities of the world’s countries. A recent study by Fiori, Antonucci, and Akiyama (2008) is an example of a cross-cultural study that sought to answer the question of whether social relationships among the elderly differed between older Americans compared to older Japanese citizens.
This research utilized archival data gathered for another study over a decade ago. Face-to-face interviews were conducted for approximately 60 minutes to determine how many, what quality, and what type of relationships elderly participants experienced. Different types of social networks were determined and labeled, including such types as family-focused, friend focused, and various types of restricted relationships (Fiori, Antonucci, & Akiyama, 2008).
All participants also consented to the disclosure of a number of health variables, including time of death. A statistical analysis examined the association between social networks and morbidity. One of the aims of this cross-cultural investigation sought to identify societal differences in social relationships. Fiori and colleagues concluded some types of relationships described by the elderly are shared by both the Japanese and American cultures. These include family-centered and friend-centered.
Other types of social networks are unique to that country, like the married/distal label attached to the Japanese tendency to experience the companionship of marriage with little social contact with others. Social networks labeled “diverse” were exceptionally common in the United States but rarely observed in Japan. Elderly Americans also experienced two distinct barriers to social relationships, structural restrictions and functional restrictions. Older adults who live far from family members and may be socially isolated experience structurally restricted socially networks.
A functionally restricted social network includes proximal family members or contacts but these relationships fail to meet the emotional and social needs of the older individual. In addition to exploring cultural differences between the social networks of the elderly in Japan and the United States, this study also identified differences in associations to health and survival related to these relationships. Americans who reported functionally restricted relationships were at a much greater risk for depressive symptoms and a number of negative health adversities.
Those with structurally restricted relationships, however, demonstrated higher and faster rates of morbidity compared to participants who experienced other social network types. Interestingly, Japanese participants showed no difference in health variables or survival associated with social networks. The information garnered from this study can be applied to working with the elderly population. The need to consider social networks and cultural factors is clearly established.
Future research can expand these findings to develop interventions to target negative or nonexistent social relationships among the elderly. Longitudinal research is needed to draw a causal connection between social networks and health, but the importance of these variables has certainly been emphasized by this study. References Fiori, K. L. , Antonucci, T. C. , & Akiyama, H. (2008). Profiles of social relations among older adults: A cross-cultural approach. Ageing and Society, 28, 203-231.