Social Relationships and Health in Later Life: Investigating the Associations Among Health and Network Structure and Function

Bonnie Bui , Tulane University

Objectives: Social networks and social support can influence older adult health, but health can also influence network maintenance. This study investigates this dynamic, examining whether networks impact future health, and whether health matters for future network characteristics. Methods: Data are from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a longitudinal study on health and social factors of older adults. Results: Using lagged dependent variable models, I find no associations between network characteristics and future health outcomes, but find that health influences later network structure. While depression reduces contact with one’s personal network, poor physical health increases contact, possibly because the need for support from one’s network becomes greater. In addition, network characteristics are associated with later social support, and social support is associated with later health. Discussion: Network structure is meaningful in that it provides the source from which support is derived to influence health.

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 Presented in Session 13. Resiliency and Successful Aging