Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Human Ecology

Major Professor

Gary W. Peterson

Committee Members

Benita J. Howell, Jay Stauss, Priscilla White


A person's quality of life has been assumed by some researchers to be related to material and achieved status or to the material conditions of life by other researchers. Individuals' perception of the quality of their lives, however, is an experience of satisfaction. Therefore, researchers have begun to examine how individuals perceive the quality of their lives based upon individuals' internal comparisons of their own expectations and aspirations (i.e., internal referents) as predictors of life satisfaction. These internal referents may not be tied to mainstream American standards or values. Most life satisfaction studies, to date, have concentrated on middle-class, urban populations.

The present study contributed to the life satisfaction literature by examining the predictive capacity of several variables on life satisfaction in a sample of young adults from low-income families living in rural Southern Appalachia. Life satisfaction was conceptualized with ideas from the symbolic interaction framework. The relative importance of status attainment versus community characteristics, self-esteem, or the individual's perceived frustrations were given special attention. Unique characteristics of low-income, rural Appalachian families such as familism and inherited status were considered as potential contributors to life satisfaction.

A sample of 322 white young adults was drawn from a ten year longitudinal survey of Appalachian youth from economically depressed areas of six southern states. Young adults were assessed in 1979 about satisfaction with several domains of their lives. Respondents also reported their attainments, frustrations with limited occupational opportunities and with educational demands, current residential characteristics, self-esteem, gender, and their father's occupational attainment while they were children.

Multiple regression analyses demonstrated that the educational and occupational status attainment of young adults and the status attainment of their fathers did not predict their life satisfaction. Frustrations about job opportunities, educational demands, and the individual's self-esteem predicted life satisfaction. For these Appalachians, characteristics about their communities also predicted life satisfaction (i.e., size of community and proximity to childhood home). Young women were found to have higher levels of life satisfaction than young men. Young women's higher life satisfaction in this study may be due to their greater success in fulfilling their traditional gender-role expectations than was possible for their male counterparts.

The results indicated that the predictors of life satisfaction among low-income, rural Appalachians differ from urban, middle-class Americans. Status attainment variables are less important than characteristics of the community, and frustrations about educational demands or limited career opportunities, and self-esteem. Life satisfaction was influenced by having lived in a rural setting, self-esteem, and the individuals' comparison of their expectations to their aspirations. The findings for community size and proximity to childhood home seemed to reflect a particular kind of "rural psychology." Specifically, these youth seemed well adapted to their low-income circumstances and experienced high levels of life satisfaction, despite a relatively low "objective" quality of life.

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