The research is in conjunction with “Caring and Aging with Pride,” the first National Institute of Health-funded project to study the health of older LGBT adults and their caregivers. The ongoing initiative, based at the School of Social Work at the University of Washington, is now in its tenth year studying the lives of over 2,400 LGBT adults with ages ranging 50-100.
One of Muraco’s most recent studies with the initiative looked at the role of pets in the lives of older LGBT adults. She presented her paper on the topic, “Life Saving in Every Way,” at the Gerontological Society of America Conference in November 2015.
“I thought it was important to focus on pets because when I did interviews with people in the population that we studied, I kept hearing that people had really important and meaningful relationships with their pets,” Muraco said. Community partners on the Caring and Aging with Pride study also urged the team to study the role of pets in the lives of LGBT older adults.
The study found that pets significantly contribute to the overall quality of life for LGBT older adults. “Especially for individuals who have limited social networks, pets can give those folks an important form of social support,” Muraco said.
For Muraco, studying the experiences of older LGBT adults is a matter of social justice. “This is a population that was largely invisible for a long period of time, as well as politically and socially marginalized,” Muraco said. “The research gives focus to a group that hasn’t had that kind of attention in the past.”
As a professor, Muraco incorporates her research into her classes almost every day. Her “Sociology of Aging” course gives students their own firsthand research experience, conducting field interviews with older adults at a local church. But even in her general qualitative research methods courses, Muraco brings up her own research experiences “to offer real-life examples of the ways that research actually happens and the complexities of it,” Muraco said.
In the future, Muraco hopes to research cooperative living and alternative aging models for adults who are single and childless.
“Sociology really provides a lens through which you can view the world around you and really understand it,” said Muraco. “If you want to be an engaged citizen and understand the world around you and actively engage, sociology is a really great field to do that.”