The findings provided partial support to our hypothesis. Among the positive personality traits, greater spirituality correlated with higher resilience (CD-RISC) and higher optimism (LOT) in bivariate analyses, but only with resilience in model testing. Spirituality was not associated with self-rated successful aging, HRQOL, or level of depression. Among the demographic variables, greater spirituality was related in bivariate analyses to lower education, lower income, lower likelihood of being in a marital or committed relationship, race, ethnicity, and score on the LES, but the last three variables were not significant in model testing.
In this study, resilience had the strongest level of association with increased spirituality, which remained significant after controlling for demographic variables. This finding is consistent with previous work by others (Connor et al., 2003
) using the CD-RISC, demonstrating an association between spirituality and coping, especially in persons who survive trauma or loss. It is conceivable that increased spirituality offers a coping strategy to negative life events, thereby promoting resilience. This would support investigations (Koenig et al., 1998
; Ironson et al., 2002
) reporting that higher spirituality or religiosity was associated with faster recovery from medical illnesses.
Also of note were our findings associating spirituality with lower income, lower level of education, and lower rates of being married or in a committed relationship. We speculate that these findings may be consistent with life situations requiring recruitment of higher coping strategies and greater need for traits such as resilience. The nature of our data does not allow us to explore whether there may be mediating or moderating relationships between these variables.
Our study had several strengths. We included a large, well-characterized community-dwelling sample of relatively healthy older women, allowing us to study spirituality within a wider context than specialized subpopulations that involve higher coping. We examined multiple domains associated with successful aging and our measure of spirituality had adequate internal consistency. On the other hand, this study also had several limitations. All our subjects were women, a majority of the sample was Caucasian, and the median level of educational attainment was some college. Therefore, our findings may not generalize to other populations. Although our sample included a large percentage of women participants in the Women's Health Initiative, their educational attainment, income, and overall health may be higher than in the general population, and the subset of WHI who completed the survey used in this study were wealthier, better educated, and more likely to be married than those who did not return the survey. Therefore, there are additional limitations in how the obtained sample represents the general population of women. Furthermore, the study was cross-sectional, and thus, conclusions about the effect of spirituality on successful aging and related domains may be confounded by cohort effects and/or a bias in sample collection. The cross-sectional nature of the study does not allow us to establish chronological relationships between aging and spirituality. In addition, most of the variables in our study were measured by self-report, which may be influenced by social desirability (Ahern, Kiehl, Lou Sole, & Byers, 2006
). Finally, spirituality is a broad and multidimensional construct. While we believe that our measure addressed key broad dimensions, other domains not measured, such as religious coping, may influence successful aging in other ways.
In summary, we found that spirituality was associated with a specific demographic profile (lower education, lower household income, and lower likelihood of being in a marital or committed relationship), and higher level of resilience. These findings may help expand our understanding of the role of spirituality within the broader paradigm of successful aging, and bear replication and longitudinal study.