Date of Award

May 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Brian Schermer

Second Advisor

Gerald Weisman

Committee Members

Sang-Yeon Kim, Jung-hye Shin


Cultural Practices, Cultural Resources, Elderly Korean Immigrants, Housing Adjustment Behaviors, Individual Coping Responses, Residential Experiences


The present study is an explorative study that employs mixed methods for examining the daily life patterns and housing adjustment behaviors of low-income elderly Korean immigrants residing in public housing in the Chicago metropolitan area. It particularly focuses on identifying the cultural practices of research participants and the influence of those cultural practices on using residential features, evaluating them, and developing coping responses to satisfy dwelling needs.

The study develops upon Canter’s theories of place (1977; 1991; 1997) and Weisman’s model of place (2001), and integrates Rapoport’s concepts of culture (1980; 2008) for exploring the residential experiences of elderly Korean immigrants from a practical standpoint. The housing adjustment behaviors are developed from Morris and Winter’s housing adjustment and adaptation model (1978). It is modified considering the characteristics of research participants and their living conditions. In this study, housing adjustment behaviors are categorized into five modes: residential mobility, structural adaptation, normative adaptation, behavioral adaptation, and residential alteration.

Two focus group meetings with elderly Korean neighborhood representatives were conducted for developing and refining the questionnaire and interview protocol. Two-hour in-depth interviews with open-ended questions were conducted with 138 participants from 15 affordable housing complexes. The collected information includes demographic information, cultural orientation, relocation experiences, daily activity patterns, residential evaluation, and housing adjustment behaviors. Interviews were audio-taped upon participants’ approval, and photographs of individual dwellings were taken after each interview. Data were analyzed using quantitative, qualitative, and photographic analysis. Various statistical tests were performed to identify the characteristics, trends, and patterns of the collected data sets, and interpretive analysis was performed with interview transcripts as well as the photographs of individual dwellings.

The study results indicate that many research participants maintained their cultural practices of daily living accumulated from their past experiences but also made adjustments as they complied with their aging body and new living conditions. The former group includes sleeping, dining individually or in small groups, cooking, and doing laundry, while the latter group relates to participants’ dietary habits, washing of self, cleaning residential floors, and participating in social activities. Participants considered more of their cultural context when they evaluated the social environment rather than the physical setting of their dwelling. All five modes of housing adjustment behaviors were observed with research participants within their residential settings. More importantly, normative and behavioral adaptations along with residential alterations occurred more simultaneously rather than sequentially when the respondents perceived discrepancy between their needs and their dwelling environment.

The research findings identify that elderly immigrants’ cultural needs are not limited to the use of language and ethnic goods, but are also embedded deeply in their daily life patterns and influence their use of their dwellings in a broader sense. The findings also provide more insights of understanding the participants’ residential life and experiences, which will be useful for housing authority and administrators in creating culturally rich contexts for elderly immigrants. The housing adjustment behaviors are useful for architects, designers, and builders with respect to developing the design guidelines and details of creating culturally sensitive housing. For future studies, the study framework should be expanded to include other ethnic elderly immigrants residing in public housing or to elderly Korean immigrants residing in private housing. This will be effective for identifying and understanding the role of culture on their dwelling lifestyles as well as residential experiences.