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J Aging Stud. 2014 Jan;28:44-56. doi: 10.1016/j.jaging.2013.12.001. Epub 2013 Dec 22.

Protection as care: moral reasoning and moral orientation among ethnically and socioeconomically diverse older women.

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Colorado State University School of Social Work, 1586 Campus Delivery, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1586, United States. Electronic address:


This study examined moral reasoning among ethnically and socioeconomically diverse older women based on the care and justice moral orientations reflecting theoretical frameworks developed by Carol Gilligan and Lawrence Kohlberg, respectively. A major gap in this area of research and theory development has been the lack of examination of moral reasoning in later life. This study addressed this gap by assessing socioeconomically and ethnically diverse older women's reasoning in response to ethical dilemmas showing conflict between autonomy, representative of Kohlberg's justice orientation, and protection, representative of Gilligan's care orientation. The dilemmas used in this study came from adult protective services (APS), the U.S. system that investigates and intervenes in cases of elder abuse and neglect. Subjects were 88 African American, Latina, and Caucasian women age 60 or over from varying socioeconomic status backgrounds who participated in eight focus groups. Overall, participants favored protection over autonomy in responding to the case scenarios. Their reasoning in responding to these dilemmas reflected an ethic of care and responsibility and a recognition of the limitations of autonomy. This reasoning is highly consistent with the care orientation. Variations in the overall ethic of care and responsibility based on ethnicity and SES also are discussed.


Ethnicity; Moral development; Moral orientation; Moral reasoning; Older women; Socioeconomic status

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