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Social Networks

Social Networks And Aging

Changes in social networks as a function of the aging process have been the focus of research. There is evidence to suggest that as people age, their social networks tend to grow smaller and are composed largely of kin (Lang 2000; Sluzki 2000). As individuals age and view their future as time-limited, they are likely to seek relationships that provide the most emotional impact and short-term benefits and discontinue those relationships that are less satisfying (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, and Charles 1999). Thus, the motivation to seek and maintain social contacts is thought to be linked to an individual's perceptions of their future.

The gerontological literature documents the importance of families, particularly adult daughters, in caring for elders (see Dwyer and Coward 1992). However, as more couples in the United States choose not to have children, the family members available for support and care become more limited. In a study by Melanie Gironda, James Lubben, and Kathryn Atchison (1999), elders without children generally reported less contact with other relatives and family members than those elders with children. It appears that elders without children may renew old friendships or relations with distant kin in later life if geographic location permits (Sluzki 2000). Thus, the social networks of some elders may largely consist of recycled or renewed relationships with people who share a long personal history, if not an extended period of sustained interaction.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesSocial Networks - Defining Social Networks, Social Network Structure: Relationship Opportunities And Constraints, Gender Differences In Social Networks