Nature as Nurture: Rural Older Women's Perspectives on The Natural Environment

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Virginia Tech

The natural environment is a dynamic context for human development, but current lifestyles and activities are threatening the quality and supply of natural resources, and changing the conditions of the atmosphere. Older adults in the United States have been called upon to contribute their energy to volunteer efforts aimed at improving environmental conditions, but little is known about how or if older adults would be willing to take part. Informed by place attachment and attention restoration theory, and guided by the life course framework of human development, the purpose of this qualitative investigation was to deepen understanding about how a nature trajectory is established and the factors that influence the relationship between humans and nature over time.

Interviews were conducted with 34 older rural women who ranged in aged from 71 to 91 years old (mean age 79). Seventeen of the women were living alone and nine lived below the poverty threshold. Using grounded theory coding and analysis techniques, two major findings emerged from the data: the women valued nature for spiritual and psychological reasons, and nature was suffering as a result of a wasteful and destructive economic paradigm. Half of the women's nature trajectories changed over time; trajectories remained positive and stable for the others. As God's creation, the natural environment informed their sense of self and bolstered their psychological well-being. They cared about environmental problems, but were unaware of what they could do to help.

Nature, Environment, Aging, Rural, Women, Qualitative, Life Course Perspective, Restoration, Place