At My Side Is God: Aspiration Strain, Self-Concept, and the Moderating Role of Religion




DeAngelis, Reed

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Scholars in the fields of criminology and epidemiology have linked personal experiences with thwarted life goals – i.e. aspiration strain – to increased risk of criminal and suicidal behavior, as well as to diminished mental and physical health. Very little is known, however, about the ways people cope with aspiration strain. To address this gap, my study (a) develops and tests a series of hypotheses linking aspiration strain to diminished self-concept (i.e. self-esteem and mastery), and (b) assesses whether multiple dimensions of religious involvement moderate (i.e. buffer) these associations. I test my hypotheses with cross-sectional survey data from the Nashville Stress and Health Study (2011-2014), a probability sample of non-Hispanic white and black adults from Davidson County, Tennessee (n=1,252). Results from multivariate regression analyses confirmed: (1) aspiration strain was negatively associated with self-esteem and mastery, net of a battery of statistical controls; (2) measures of public and private religiousness, as well as perceived divine control, attenuated the inverse association between aspiration strain and self-esteem; (3) public and private religiousness exhibited no associations with mastery; and (4) perceived divine control amplified the inverse association between aspiration strain and mastery. I discuss the implications and limitations of my study, as well as some promising avenues for future research.


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aspiration strain, goal-striving stress, mastery, mental health, religion, self-esteem