Social networks and well-being: a comparison of older people in Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean countries

Howard Litwin
Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 2010, 65 (5): 599-608

OBJECTIVES: This study examined whether the social networks of older persons in Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean countries were appreciably different and whether they functioned in similar ways in relation to well-being outcomes.

METHODS: The sample included family household respondents aged 60 years and older from the first wave of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe in 5 Mediterranean (n = 3,583) and 7 non-Mediterranean (n = 5,471) countries. Region was regressed separately by gender on variables from 4 network domains: structure and interaction, exchange, engagement and relationship quality, and controlling for background and health characteristics. In addition, 2 well-being outcomes-depressive symptoms and perceived income inadequacy-were regressed on the study variables, including regional social network interaction terms.

RESULTS: The results revealed differences across the 2 regional settings in each of the realms of social network, above and beyond the differences that exist in background characteristics and health status. The findings also showed that the social network variables had different effects on the well-being outcomes in the respective settings.

DISCUSSION: The findings underscore that the social network phenomenon is contextually bound. The social networks of older people should be seen within their unique regional milieu and in relation to the values and social norms that prevail in different sets of societies.

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