Doctor of Philosophy
Thomas V. McGovern
The purpose of this study was to determine the stages in the adult development of single women living in religious communities and compare these stages with those of married women. Specific research questions about each five year period from age 21 to 50 were answered by this study.
Questionnaires were sent to 200 women religious and 200 married women between the ages of 36 and 50 who live in the Pittsburgh area and are white, middle-class, and Catholic. In addition to requesting biographical information, these questionnaires asked participants to specify which five year period in their lives they experienced certain marker events and developmental processes. Participants also rated marker events according to their positive or negative effect on their lives.
An analysis of the data from the questionnaires included determining participant characteristics, the percentage and mean age of women religious and married women who experienced each developmental issue during each age period, frequency and mean ratings for marker events, and "co-happenings" between marker events and developmental issues for women religious.
The results of this study demonstrate that there is a similar pattern in the stages of development of the women religious and the married women in this sample regarding identity, satisfaction, stress, etc., despite the different marker events occurring in their lives and their diverse educational backgrounds and employment histories. The sequence of phases in their adult growth also mirrors that described in the review of recent research on this topic. Only on the issues of lower life satisfaction and satisfaction with the community in their early twenties do the women religious in this study deviate from recent findings. The sample of married women follows the predicted pattern except that their initial reactions to marriage were different than those of women in other studies, probably because of their religious affiliation.
The similarity in the findings of the two groups of women in this study suggests that their adult development is not determined by the occurrence and timing of specific marker events in their lives. The sequence they follow appears to be more age than event-related. It seems more dependent on the manner in which they have been socialized regarding acceptable attitudes and roles for women than it is on their choice of a celibate or married lifestyle.
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