Date of Award

Spring 1997

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Heather Turner


The "active" and "potent" self has held a special interest to philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists since the inception of those disciplines. The present research uses sociological perspectives on social comparison and reference group theory to provide a framework for understanding the various dimensions of self-process in the context of age and disability. Specifically, this research examines associations between age, disability, and social status indicators as they impress upon personal agency or mastery.

This study uses secondary data that includes respondents aged 18 and over who resided in any of ten counties in Southwestern Ontario and were part of a two-wave panel study from 1981/82 to 1985/86. Only data from the second wave are included in analyses. Respondents were coded as "disabled" if they answered "yes" to the following question: "Do any adults in the household have any physical health condition or physical handicap that has resulted in a change in their daily routine or that limits the kind or amount of activity they can carry out? (For instance: work, housework, school, play recreation, shopping or participation in social activities or community activities.)" Of the total, 730 respondents reported some kind of impairment; a comparison group of 850 matched on age and sex did not have impairment. The age range of the sample was from 18 to 91 years, with a mean of 56 years. Sixty-six percent were female. Sixty-five percent were married, ten percent were single, sixteen were widowed, and nine percent were divorced or separated. Essentially all of the respondents were white.

Multivariate regression analyses reveal complex patterns in tests of several alternative hypotheses. Among the central findings, age and disability are negatively associated with mastery. The interaction of age and disability is significant such that disability is more negatively associated with mastery with increasing age--but this pattern is only observed among men up to age 60. Adjustment for socioeconomic variables significantly reduces the negative age-mastery and disability-mastery associations. In addition, the benefits of education for mastery are significantly greater for disabled women. Other findings indicate that the benefits of social support for mastery are undermined by disability--but a significant pattern is only observed among women. The results are examined in the broader context of age and disability research and highlight the relevance of gender in these processes. Implications of the findings for stress process research, health practitioners, and social policy makers are discussed.