Strengthening social capital through residential environment development to support healthy aging: A mixed methods study of Chinese-Canadian seniors in Winnipeg

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Luo, Hai
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This study attempts to understand the issues and challenges related to healthy aging faced by Chinese seniors who are living in a cultural and social context different from their home countries. Using an ecosystems perspective, the study focuses on exploring three major components in seniors’ lives: health, social capital, and residential environment, and then analyzing the interactions among the components. A convergent parallel mixed methods design was used in this study. A survey was conducted with seniors in Winnipeg Chinese communities to collect quantitative data on health (SF-36) and social capital (views of community, trust and reciprocity, civil participation, social networks and social support, and social participation), and focus group interviews were conducted to collect qualitative data on social capital and residential environment. One hundred and one respondents were interviewed in person to fill out the questionnaire and 43 seniors participated in focus group interviews. PASW 18 (SPSS) and NVivo 8 were applied to analyzed quantitative and qualitative data respectively. Descriptive and bi-variate statistics, a comparison of Winnipeg sample data and general Chinese-Canadian seniors data, and qualitative findings are presented to describe the research target group’s demographics, health conditions, social capital, and residential environmental issues. Overall, Winnipeg Chinese seniors enjoy moderate health; but many of them reported different levels and types of difficulties they had experienced with health care and health care support services. Both quantitative and qualitative data demonstrate the level of low social capital among Chinese Seniors in Winnipeg. The quantitative data reveal some correlations between social capital factors and Chinese seniors’ health conditions, among which the most significant is that social capital likely has effects on female Chinese seniors’ mental health and male Chinese seniors’ physical health. In particular, the level of social networks and social support was positively correlated with older Chinese women’s mental health. The environments in which these seniors lived appeared to have hindered or triggered them in building or increasing their social capital. For example, those who had acquired less support from their immediate micro environment – family – tended to be more motivated to extend their social connections in a larger environment in order to obtain resources for problem-solving. Cultural influence and health care support services were critical factors in Chinese seniors’ considerations and expectations of a residential environment. In contrast to traditional Chinese cultural norms of an inter-dependent living arrangement, the majority of Chinese seniors preferred to live in separate households from their adult children. Another important finding is that a cultural- and linguistic-homogeneous residential environment does not necessarily provide positive support to Chinese seniors for their acquisition of social capital. Upon further analysis of social capital and its relationships with health and residential environments, the study offers implications from research findings to social work practice, integrating cross-cultural considerations. The study concludes with an analysis of limitations as well as suggestions for recommendations for future research.
Social Capital, Older immigrants, Residential environment