Negative Life Experience and Illness among Old Seventh-day Adventists: A Parsonian Perspective

Awarding Institution

University of New South Wales

Date of Award


Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Associate Professor Ann Daniel


This is a study of the impact of role strain on the health of older Seventh-day Adventists and the way this impact is mediated and potentially ameliorated. It is informed and guided by Talcott Parsons' theory of social action and its emphasis on the social construction of meaning. The study takes up Parsons' claim that negative life experiences are firmly implicated in the role structure of the social system with essential links to the personality and cultural systems.

The research, which was carried out among the Seventh-day Adventist community in Sydney, involved the participation of two interrelated groups: members of the wider Adventist community and, more intensively, a stratified selected sample of 85 retired old people. Systematic participant observation, analysis of religious literature and structured interviews with members of this community provided access to the beliefs and values of the Adventist community. These beliefs and values were held out as highly likely to have a profound influence on the old people's perception of life problems and their response to and coping with such difficulties. Semi-structured interviews with 85 old people living in their own homes, retirement village and hostels generated the largest part of the data. These data were analysed to identify the major conceptual themes. Preliminary quantitative categorisation and cross-tabulation of the interview data enhanced the framework for qualitative analysis.

The research findings firmly corroborated Parsons' claim that negative life experiences are embedded in the role structure of the social system with strong, integral links to the personality and cultural systems. Social roles, particularly the highly valued family and religious roles, were crucial to the sources, health outcomes, and mediators of life problems. Furthermore, the meaning of and response to negative situations were dominated by the beliefs and values definitive of their religious culture. These people had been socialised to believe and live according to the beliefs, values and expectations of the Adventist community.

This research has further developed a sociological theory of negative life experience and underlined the value of Parsonian theory as a valid and productive frame of reference for empirical research.


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Thesis. School of Sociology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of New South Wales.

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