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Funded Research

Social Relations, Aging and Health: Competing Theories and Emerging Complexities

Despite theoretical advancements and methodological innovations, a fundamental lack of knowledge regarding two key issues in the study of social relations remain: 1) how do social relationships and support change with age and; 2) when are social relationships most beneficial or harmful to health. The proposed research addresses these issues by extending the Social Relations, Age and Health study to examine three waves of data over 20 years and by investigating detailed changes in social relations over one year using both monthly assessments and multiple informants. Specifically, we propose to:
1) Use 3 wave longitudinal data over 20 years to test competing theories about age, social relations and health. A third wave of the Social Relations and Health (SR) study will allow unique opportunities to specify the direction and shape of change in the structure and quality of social relations over time.
2) Conduct an in-depth study of support exchanges and social contagion with multiple convoy members in a one year monthly longitudinal web-based study. Specifically, we will test the relative strength of the three hypothesized mechanisms of social contagion: induction, homophily and shared environmental factors.
3) Examine whether 20 year longitudinal patterns of social relations predict short term changes in enacted support over one year; and identify which data predict health disparities. These unique data will together permit examination of competing exchange theories, e.g. altruism, developmental stake, support bank, well as their association with health disparities.
Innovation. We propose theoretical (test of competing theories) and methodological (20 year longitudinal data, multiple perspective network data, and web based follow-up) innovations to clarify recent complex and contradictory findings concerning health and social relations.
Impact. Findings will impact scholarship by identifying how social relations change with age; the links between social relations and health; and how specific characteristics of social relations, cross-sectionally and longitudinally, influence the stress-health link and social disparities. We also hope to impact public policy with attention to social relations intervention programs that reduce long-term risk and increase protective factors thereby decreasing health disparities.


Health and Human Services, Department of-National Institutes of Health

Funding Period:

09/01/2013 to 05/31/2019