Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Social Welfare


Miriam Abramovitz

Subject Categories

Psychology | Social Work | Sociology


Arabic; coping mechanisms; Egyptian; Elderly; Immigration; Risk and protective factors


An increasing mosaic of immigrants comes to the United States' shores every year for different reasons. An invisible part of those immigrants are the elderly who join their families in the United States. The story of the Egyptian elderly immigrants among them, as one representative group of Arabs, is significant and its investigation is timely. This study explores the context of exit from Egypt, the risk factors for health and mental health distress induced by this transition and how they impede the adjustment process, and the protective factors and processes that buffer the risk factors, foster resilience, and facilitate the adjustment process. This study describes the challenges, difficulties, deficits, opportunities, rewards, skills, strengths, and coping strategies that make up the immigration experience among elderly Egyptians. In-depth interviews were conducted with (30) elderly Egyptian immigrants -- comprised of (15) Muslims and (15) Coptic Christians -- who came to the United States after turning 60 years of age; they came to join their families but under differing circumstances. Using a stress and coping theoretical lens and descriptive phenomenological analysis, themes were identified within each interview and across interviews.

The main themes identified through data analysis were: Push and pull factors, migratory loss and grief, acculturative stress, opportunities, and coping strategies and mechanisms. Each theme included a number of categories. Coping strategies and mechanisms had two main subthemes: problem-focused coping patterns and emotion-focused coping patterns, and each subtheme had its own categories. Some findings corroborate previous research about the experience of other ethnic elderly immigrants, particularly the experience of migratory loss and acculturative stress. Some findings were unique to elderly Egyptians, exemplified by such events as the "Egyptian revolution" and the sociopolitical chaos and economic stagnation that ensued. Another distinctive finding -- analogues to the widespread chaos and violence across the Middle East that have created urgency for emigration particularly among minority groups -- is the push factors among the Coptic Christian minority resulting from the amplified hostilities against them after the revolution. Another unique finding was "circular immigration," traveling back and forth to Egypt and the United States to manage difficulties related to lack of resources until resolutions are reached.

This dissertation contributes to knowledge about the circumstances and needs of elderly Arab immigrants in general, and elderly Egyptians in particular. With this information, social workers can develop and implement appropriate social work programs, services, and therapeutic interventions for Arabic-speaking elderly immigrants that are geared toward addressing their deficits and building on their strengths.