Meaning making in rural Appalachia: Age and gender patterns in seven measures of meaning

Volume 5 - Issue 2
Sherry Hamby Anna Segura Elizabeth Taylor John Grych Victoria Banyard
Pages: 168-186 Download Count : 2044 View Count: 2198 Facebook Share on Google+ Save to Zotero Save to Mendeley


People derive meaning in life from a wide variety of sources, but little is known about how patterns of meaning making vary across individuals. The current study examined age and gender patterns in seven measures of meaning: sense of purpose, optimism, religious or spiritual involvement, family care, morals and ethical standards, self-oriented, and relationship-oriented meaning making. As far as we are aware, this study is one of the largest studies ever conducted on this topic, allowing us to explore curvilinear age patterns and interactions between age and gender. The sample comprised 2565 participants (63.9% females), including adolescents and adults, who were recruited from rural communities of 3 Southern U.S. states. Participants completed self-report measures assessing meaning-making strengths. Overall, analyses indicated that most meaning-making strengths increase across the lifespan, from adolescence to middle adulthood, except for self-oriented activities, which were highest during adolescence and then declined. Females reported higher scores in several types of meaning-making strengths than males, but males reported more optimism. Some curvilinear patterns in age were noted, suggesting turning points or plateaus in meaning making, which have not been previously identified. Prevention and intervention programs may benefit from consideration of turning points and other age and gender patterns in meaning making. For example, recognizing whether a population is likely to be more involved in identity development or family roles could help guide programming. Future research could continue to expand the types of meaning studied.


  • Age trends
  • development
  • meaning-making
  • rural
  • strengths
  • gender differences.
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