The Early Life Origins of Later Life Networks

Alyssa Goldman , Cornell University

Early life is often considered the most vulnerable developmental period in the life course, but little research examines how childhood circumstances may have an enduring influence on some of the most consequential features of individuals’ social networks as they age. This study uses three waves of data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project to examine how childhood disadvantage may shape the structure and stability of older adults’ personal social networks. Analyses show that higher family socioeconomic status and a higher quality of life during childhood are associated with more advantageous social network properties, including more expansive network structures, tie intimacy, and relationship stability. Results also suggest that this association may be cumulative, such that childhood circumstances continue to shape social network trajectories in later life, even within a relatively narrow time span. I close by discussing the potential implications of this linkage in shaping later life well-being.

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 Presented in Session 11. Demographic and Health Outcomes of Early Life Exposures