Friday, November 8, 2019

Older participants reported smaller social networks, largely because of reporting fewer peripheral others; yet older age was associated with better well-being

Age differences in reported social networks and well-being. Bruine de Bruin, Wändi, Parker, Andrew M., Strough, JoNell. Psychology and Aging, Nov 07, 2019.

Abstract: Social networks can consist of close friends, family members, and neighbors as well as peripheral others. Studies of social networks and associations with well-being have mostly focused on age-restricted samples of older adults or specific geographic areas, thus limiting their generalizability. We analyzed 2 online surveys conducted with RAND’s American Life Panel, a national adult life span sample recruited through multiple probability-based approaches. In Survey 1, 496 participants assessed the sizes of their social networks, including the number of close friends, family members, neighbors, and peripheral others. Of those, 287 rated their social satisfaction and well-being on Survey 2. Older participants reported smaller social networks, largely because of reporting fewer peripheral others. Yet older age was associated with better well-being. Although the reported number of close friends was unrelated to age, it was the main driver of well-being across the life span—even after accounting for the number of family members, neighbors, and peripheral others. However, well-being was more strongly related to social satisfaction than to the reported number of close friends—suggesting that it is the perception of relationship quality rather than the perception of relationship quantity that is relevant to reporting better well-being. We discuss implications for social network interventions that aim to promote well-being.

Check also Older age was correlated to better scores on each of the four financial decision‐making measures, and has more experience‐based knowledge, & less negative emotions about financial decisions (both of which are particularly helpful for better financial decision-making):

Age differences in financial decision making: The benefits of more experience and less negative emotions. Wiebke Eberhardt, Wändi Bruine de Bruin, JoNell Strough. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making,

And Age differences in moral judgment: Older adults are more deontological than younger adults. Simon McNair, Yasmina Okan, Constantinos Hadjichristidis, Wändi Bruine de Bruin. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making,

In a national adult life-span sample, we found support for four predictions from the
conceptual framework provided by the Convoy Model (Antonucci et al., 2013) and Socio
emotional Selectivity Theory (Carstensen, 2006), pertaining to age differences in social
networks, as well as associations with social satisfaction and well-being across the life span.
First, we found that older adults had smaller social networks than younger adults, but that the
number of close friends was unrelated to adult age. Younger adults had especially large
social networks consisting of mostly peripheral others, perhaps because online social
networking sites have facilitated the maintenance of increasingly large and mostly impersonal
social networks (Chang et al., 2015; Ellison, Steinfeld, & Lampe, 2007; Manago, Taylor, &
Greenfield, 2012; Valenzuela, Park, & Kee, 2009; Yu et al., 2018). Yet, our findings from
this national adult life span sample are consistent with previous observations in the offline
social networks of San Francisco Bay area residents (English & Carstensen, 2014; Fung et
al., 2001) and US residents before the widespread use of the internet (Morgan, 1988), as well
as more recent observations in the online social networks of Facebook users (Chang et al.,
2015; Yu et al., 2018). Additionally, older age in our national adult life-span sample was
associated with reporting social networks that included fewer family members and more
neighbors. A review of studies with older adults suggested that friends and neighbors may be
more important than family members kp"qnfgt"cfwnvuÓ"uqekcn"pgvyqtmu for promoting well
being (Pinquart & Sörensen, 2000). In older West Berlin residents, close friends and
neighbors were found to take over social and instrumental support functions to replace
unavailable family members (Lang & Carstensen, 1994).
Second, qnfgt"cfwnvuÓ"smaller networks did not appear to undermine their social
satisfaction or well-being. Although the two measures were highly correlated, reports of
social satisfaction were unrelated to age while reports of well-being increased with age.
Age differences in social networks 16

Other studies that have also suggested that life satisfaction and well-being tend to be
preserved or improve with older age (Carstensen et al., 2000, 2011; Charles et al., 2001;
Kessler & Staudinger, 2009).
Third, the reported number of close friends was associated with reported social
satisfaction and reported well-being across the adult life span. The relationship between the
number of close friends and well-being held even after accounting for the number of family
members, neighbors, and peripheral others Î which were not additionally associated with
well-being. The relationship of the reported number of close friends with greater social
satisfaction and well-being did not vary with age, suggesting the importance of close
friendships across the life span. This finding is consistent with observed patterns among
Facebook users, who reported greater well-being if they perceived more Òactual friendsÓ in
their online social networks (Chang et al., 2015). However, in the off-line social networks of
San Francisco Bay area residents (Fung et al., 2001), there was some evidence that reporting
more close friendships was related to lower happiness among younger adults, in line with the
idea that close relationships can also be emotionally taxing (Birditt et al., in press; Hartup &
Stevens, 1999). Indeed, younger adults report more problems and negative interactions in
their close social relationships as compared to older adults (Akiyama, Antonucci, Takahashi,
& Langfahl, 2003; Birditt et al., in press; Schlosnagle & Strough, 2017), which may partially
explain why we found that younger adults reported lower well-being despite having similar
numbers of close friends as older adults.
Our fourth main finding is that the reported number of close friends no longer
predicted well-being after taking into account the significant relationship between social
satisfaction and well-being. Thus, the quality of close friendships seems more important than
their quantity, for promoting well-being. Our analyses of a national adult life-span sample
confirmed patterns that had been observed in studies with age-restricted samples of older dults (Cornwell & Waite, 2009; Pinquart & Sörensen, 2000), and with a geographically
restricted adult life span sample recruited from the San Francisco Bay area (Fung et al.,
Our combined findings suggest support for a conceptual framework consisting of the
Convoy Model (Antonucci et al., 2013) and Socio-emotional Selectivity Theory, which
predicts smaller social networks of emotionally close relationships in older age, with benefits
to well-being. The Convoy Model posits that these age differences in social network size and
composition reflect age differences in personal and situational factors (Antonucci et al.,
2013). However, all findings held despite taking into account potential age differences in
self-reported health, income, and demographics. Possibly, age differences in other
unmeasured factors may have played a role. Socio-emotional Selectivity Theory suggests
that older adults may make intentional choices about their social networks, so as to optimize
emotional experiences (English & Carstensen, 2014). Although our secondary analyses can
not provide direct insight into the deliberate nature of age-related changes in centering social
networks more on emotionally gratifying close relationships, findings from the Berlin Aging
Study have shown that the main reason for discontinuing relationships in older adulthood
may be a lack of interest rather than lack of opportunity (Lang, 2000). Moreover, a survey of
a national adult life span sample revealed that younger, not older, people reported wishing
they had more friends (Lansford, Sherman, & Antonucci, 1998). Yet, our findings also
suggest that, as compared to younger adults, older adults count more neighbors among their
social contacts, which was unrelated to their social satisfaction and well-being. Thus, not all
of older adults' social contacts may be deliberately selected (or avoided) to promote better
 One limitation of our research is its cross-sectional correlational nature, which
precludes conclusions about causality or developmental changes with age. Additionally, did not have access to participants' actual social networks. It is possible that younger adults
exaggerated their reported social networks, or that older adults underestimated theirs.
However, our findings suggest that these perceptions of social networks are relevant to later
reports of social satisfaction and well-being as provided on a separate survey. Another
potential limitation is that, despite relatively good response rates, our national life span
sample may have had limited representativeness due to selection effects. Although our
demographic control variables were in line with those in the literature on age differences in
social networks (e.g., Chang et al., 2015; Lang & Carstensen, 1994; Morgan, 1988), it is
possible that unmeasured variables such as personality characteristics may have contributed
to our findings.
Furthermore, the surveys we analyzed did not ask participants to distinguish between
social contacts who were maintained online or face to face. There may have been age
differences in the number of contacts maintained online or face-to-face with younger adults
maintaining especially large online social networks with many peripheral others (Chang et
al., 2015; Ellison, Steinfeld, & Lampe, 2007; Manago et al., 2012; Valenzuela, Park, & Kee,
2009; Yu et al., 2018). However, distinguishing between online and face-to-face contacts
may not actually be possible, because online communications are typically used to
supplement face-to-face and telephone communications with existing social contacts (Bargh
& McKenna, 2004; Wellman, Haase, Witte, & Hampton, 2001). Moreover, the importance
of friendships for well-being has been reported in studies of off-line social networks and
online social networks (e.g., Fung et al., 2001; Chang et al., 2015). While the nature of
friendships and time spent face to face may change over the life span, their social meaning
and importance to well-being does not (Hartup & Stevens, 1999).
Our findings suggest that interventions that aim to improve well-being may benefit
from helping recipients to foster close social relationships. Such interventions may require different approaches among older adults, as compared to younger adults. Indeed, developing
effective interventions requires a deeper understanding of those issues that audience members
need and want to have addressed (Bruine de Bruin & Bostrom, 2013). For example, older
adults may be most interested in interventions that help them to maintain their existing close
friendships. As noted by Fung et al. (2001), older people may actively resist encouragements
to increase their social networks through senior centers or visitation programs, because
meeting new people may no longer be as important to them (see also Carstensen & Erickson,
1986; Korte & Gupta, 1991). Rather, older adults may be better able to reduce feelings of
loneliness when being provided with internet and computer training (Choi, Kong, & Jung,
2012), perhaps because it helps them to stay in touch with those social contacts they care
most about (McAndrew & Jeong, 2012; Thayer & Ray, 2006).
Younger adults, on the other hand, may be most interested in growing their social
networks, but may benefit from learning how to do so while avoiding problems with their
friendships and draining their emotional resources (Birditt et al., in press; Hartup & Stevens,
1999; Schlosnagle & Strough, 2017). Pro-social interventions may be able to help younger
adults to grow their social networks in a positive manner: Pre-adolescents who were asked to
engage in three acts of kindness (vs. to visit three places) increased their popularity among
peers as well as their well-being (Layous, Nelson, Oberle, Schonert-Reichl, Lyubomirsky,
Moreover, a review of interventions that targeted lonely adults of all ages suggested
that providing cognitive behavioral therapy that aimed to improve maladaptive social
cognitions (or heightened negative attention to social threats, which exacerbate feelings of
sadness and loneliness) may be more effective than social activity interventions (Masi, Chen,
Hawkley, & Cacioppo, 2011). A review of interventions that promote the self-expression of
gratitude has suggested a beneficial effect on feelings of social connectedness and well-being (Armenta, Fritz, & Lyubomirsky, 2016). Indeed, our findings suggest that, across the life
span, satisfaction with social relationships may be more important than the quantity of close
friends, for promoting well-being.

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