The role of social relationships in predicting loneliness: The national social life, health, and aging project

Sharon Shiovitz-Ezra*, Sara A. Leitsch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations

Abstract

The authors explore associations between objective and subjective social network characteristics and loneliness in later life, using data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, a nationally representative sample of individuals ages 57 to 85 in the United States. Hierarchical linear regression was used to examine the associations between measures of objective and subjective social network characteristics and their importance in predicting loneliness across marital status. For the entire sample, as well as the married-cohabitating subsample, objective indicators such as frequency of contact with social network members were negatively associated with feelings of loneliness, net of background characteristics. However, the authors' analysis highlights the contribution of subjective perceptions of social ties, the quality of marriage in later life for those engaged in marital or cohabitating relationships, and the quality of familial ties for the nonmarried older adults. In a married-cohabitating subsample, the subjective perceptions of one's relationship with the partner explained, by itself, 7% of the variance in loneliness, whereas the quality of family ties explained an additional 6% of the variance in loneliness in the nonmarried sample. Based on the present findings, practical implications for social workers are discussed.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)157-167
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Work Research
Volume34
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
NSHAP is a nationally representative probability sample of noninstitutionalized people ages 57 to 85 years, selected from households across the United States. NSHAP is a multistage, stratified area probability sample.The sample for NSHAP was generated using the same field operation that was used for the 2004 wave of the Health and retirement Study (HrS).The HrS is a nationally representative sample of individuals 50 years and older living in the United States that is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and is conducted by the University of Michigan. Participants take part in a biennial interview that covers a range of topics, including income, wealth, work, retirement, family support systems,health,and health care use (http:// hrsonline.isr.umich.edu/).

Keywords

  • Later life
  • Loneliness
  • Social networks
  • Subjective perceptions

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