Dissertation Defenses

Doctoral students who have an upcoming dissertation oral defense are posted here. So why not take this opportunity to learn about the research that our graduate students are doing!

Dissertation Defense for Susan Fox

Program: Sociology: PHD

Department Contact Email: deena.peschke@unh.edu

Defense Title: Life Interrupted: The Experience of Informal Caregivers of Aging Family Members

Defense Date and Time: 02/13/15 10:00 am

Defense Location: McConnell 302

Defense Advisor: Dr. Heather Turner

Defense Abstract: While formal long-term care services have traditionally focused on institutionally-based care, informal family caregivers provide 80% of all long-term care in the US (Thompson, 2004). This caregiving is physically and mentally demanding, unpaid, and often performed while the caregiver is balancing work and family responsibilities. With stress process theory (Pearlin, 1989) as a guide, this research utilized a mixed methods approach to study the relationships between the objective demands of caregiving, caregiver burden, and caregiver mental and physical well-being; whether burden mediates these relationship; how caregivers experience the demands of caregiving as stressful,and how they utilize coping strategies to manage these stressors. The study sample consisted of 418 caregiver and care recipient dyads enrolled in the NH Family Caregiver Support Program. Quantitative data were derived from structured social survey data collected on both caregivers and care recipients, first upon entry into the program and again at six months. Qualitative data were derived from semi-structured interviews with 20 caregivers. Findings from the study indicated that burden was significantly related to caregiver well-being and, in fact, mediated the relationship between caregiving demands and caregiver well-being. In addition, employment was found to be directly related to lower psychological distress and increased age was directly related to lower caregiver burden. Flexible and supportive employers were important in order for caregivers to manage the competing roles of employment and caregiving. Coping strategies utilized by caregivers included efforts to positively frame or change the meaning of the caregiving experience, efforts to change the caregiving situation itself, and seeking and utilizing social supports and resources. Informal, unpaid, family caregivers are the under-recognized cornerstone of the long-term care system in the United States. From both a social and fiscal policy perspective, it is critical that policy makers prioritize supports to these informal, family caregivers.


Dissertation Defense for Meghan Mills

Program: Sociology: PHD

Department Contact Email: deena.peschke@unh.edu

Defense Title: The Impact of Socioeconomic Status and Goal-Striving Stress on Depression and Delinquency among Rural Youth

Defense Date and Time: 03/18/15 10:00 am

Defense Location: Carsey Institute, Huddleston Hall

Defense Advisor: Dr. Karen Van Gundy

Defense Abstract: According to the stress process framework,both socioeconomic status and goal-striving stress serve as critical chronic stressors; however, little to no research has examined the relationship between socioeconomic status, goal-striving stres, and well-being using this theoretical framework. Using longitudinal data from Waves I (2009) & II (2011) of the Rural Youth Study (RYS), my dissertation examines how goal-striving stress varies by socioeconomic status, and it investigates the impact of goal-striving stress on delinquent behaviors and depressive symptoms among rural youth over time, and net of crucial components of the stress process framework (i.e., stressful life events, family attachment, and personal resources). More specifically, my research examines the unique effects of educational, occupational, and community goal-striving stress as well as the effects of a combined measure of overall goal-striving stress.
Analyses reveal a significant negative relationship between socioeconomic status and depressive symptoms, but this relationship is mediated by family attachment. Controlling for prior depressive symptoms, only a significant positive relationship between community goal-striving stress and depressive symptoms remains. However, with regard to delinquent behaviors, educational, community, and overall goal-striving stress are significantly positively related to delinquent behaviors net of prior delinquency. Such findings remain even with statistical adjustments for socioeconomic status, stressful life events, family attachment, and personal resources.
The findings of my dissertation illustrate the importance of considering various types of goal-striving stress and considering their unique effects on different outcomes. My findings highlight the importance of a "new" type of goal-striving stress among rural youth, community goal-striving stress. Additionally, my findings indicate that goal-striving stress may be especially important for understanding the unequal social distribution of outcomes such as delinquency that are not as clearly or directly associated with socioeconomic status. Such findings highlight the important role of the stress process framework for understanding socioeconomic disparities in outcomes. In sum, goal-striving stress is a critical topic for future research using the stress process framework with important policy implications for improving the well-being of rural youth.


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